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Week 13 Fantasy Football: Last-Minute Lineup Advice

Dave Major examines all the latest NFL news and how it affects your fantasy team.

Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall
Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall

Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall (28) runs for a 5 yard touchdown as Indianapolis Colts strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) defends during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Ellington will be a game-time decision Sunday in Philadelphia. Starter Rashard Mendenhall would carry a greater load in his absence. When they have suited up this season, Ellington has averaged 6.6 carries for 40.1 yards (6.0 yards per attempt) and 0.2 touchdowns, while the veteran has made 13.0 attempts for 39.1 yards (3.0 yards per carry) and 0.5 scores.

This week, the Falcons will line up opposite Buffalo’s 12th ranked pass defense. This marks the first time since Roddy White’s week 10 return that Atlanta will not have to face Darrelle Revis, or one of the league’s top three pass defenses. The team’s last three games were against Tampa Bay, Seattle and New Orleans. White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas might be liberated to their old selves for the first time in a long while. Give all members of the Falcons’ offense a boost against the Bills’ 18th overall defense. Buffalo has allowed the third most passing touchdowns in the NFL (22).

Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are likely to return for Sunday’s “home” game in Toronto, after each missing time. E.J. Manuel should do better with his top two weapons returning. The three have not shared the same field since week five’s contest in Cleveland, when Manuel was injured.

DeAngelo Williams (quad) is questionable for week 13’s game against Tampa Bay. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said there is “a lot of concern” about his availability. Naturally, one can expect to see more of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert should Williams be forced to sit. Since Stewart joined the team as a rookie in 2008, he and Williams have played in 64 games together. In games played together, Williams has averaged 17.3 carries for 84.7 yards and 0.7 scores, while Stewart has rushed 9.7 times for 43.2 yards and 0.4 touchdowns. With their counterpart declared out, Williams has seen a slight decline to 15.2 attempts for 69.4 yards and 0.2 trips to pay dirt, whereas Stewart has improved significantly to a mean of 18.0 carries, 97.5 yards, and 0.4 scores. The third man on the totem pole, Tolbert, actually leads the backfield in rushing touchdowns (4). Within the opponents’ 5-yard line, Tolbert has carried the ball eight times for all four of his scores, while Williams has made five attempts without a touchdown. Stewart has yet to make a red zone carry in 2013.

Based on nothing but his name, the author is contractually obligated to mention any time Major Wright appears on the injury report. Chicago’s strong safety is questionable with a hamstring. Any missed action for Wright could open space for Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson. Jay Cutler is out with a high ankle sprain, meaning another episode of Josh McCown. Downgrade Brandon Marshall and all other Chicago receivers until the starting passer returns.

Jason Campbell will miss week 13 with a concussion, and Brandon Weeden will return for his fifth start of the season. The 30-year-old second-year quarterback has thrown at least 24 passes in six games this season. He has only broken a 50 percent completion rate in half of those contests, while completing 51.5 percent of his passes this year. This situation hurts Browns receivers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, but not Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. Keep it straight.

Knowshon Moreno is listed as probable, and interim head coach Jack Del Rio was optimistic about the back’s ability to start. Rookie Montee Ball will continue to spell Moreno from the bench. Del Rio said on Monday that he expects Julius Thomas to start in Kansas City. Mike Klis of the Denver Post reported on Friday that Moreno and Thomas showed better movement in practice than they had previously. Jacob Tamme returns to fantasy irrelevance with the return of Thomas to the lineup.

Ben Tate will start Houston’s week 13 showdown with the Patriots. After rushing for just one yard on seven carries last week, his starting job was declared safe. “I think Ben will bounce back,” head coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday. Dennis Johnson came off the bench to run 13 times for 74 yards, and will continue to spell Tate moving forward. The starter is still battling through four broken ribs.

T.Y. Hilton missed practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury, but is expected to start against the Titans. In week 12’s loss to Arizona, Trent Richardson played 40 snaps, compared to backup Donald Brown’s 16. That might not be news for many backfields, but Brown has outperformed Richardson in recent weeks. In the Colts’ last three games, Richardson has averaged 10 touches for 38 yards and no scores, while rushing for just 2.0 yards per attempt. During that stretch, Brown has earned a mean of 8.3 touches for 52 yards and one touchdown per game, while creating 4.4 yards per carry on the ground. This Sunday, Indianapolis will welcome Tennessee’s 18th ranked rush defense to town.

Ace Sanders has come on strong lately as a surprise Jacksonville receiver. In the stead of suspended Justin Blackmon, the rookie has earned 15 targets in the last two games, second on the team only to Cecil Shorts (16). Sanders has made 12 grabs for 122 yards during these games, while Shorts has caught 10 passes for 93 yards. The sample size is far too small to expect consistency of a 22-year-old in the NFL. But Sanders could make a desperate plug-and-play flex option for some playoff lineups.

Tamba Hali is battling an ankle injury, but is expected to play at home Sunday against Denver. Fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston is out. The downgrade at this position means that Peyton Manning could have more success finding his slot receivers. According to Pro Football Focus, only three Broncos receivers have received more than 10 targets on slot routes run this season, Wes Welker (77), Julius Thomas (25), and Eric Decker (22). Look for Manning to carve it up before a hostile Arrowhead crowd.

Rishard Matthews disappeared last week against Carolina’s seventh-ranked pass defense. The second-year receiver made three catches for only two yards in that game. Mike Wallace caught five passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, while Brian Hartline made five receptions for 78 yards. Pro Football Focus calculates the average time in the pocket for quarterbacks, as well as receivers’ slot performances. On average this season, Ryan Tannehill receives the 32nd most time in the pocket (2.39 seconds) before attempting a pass. As a comparison, Terrelle Pryor has gotten the most time of all quarterbacks, with 3.04 seconds before each attempt. The Dolphins gave Tannehill more time last week; his 2.6 seconds before each pass ranked 17th in the league. That additional time could account for the passers’ improved ability to find Wallace and Hartline downfield. Only two active Miami receivers have received more than 10 slot targets this season, Charles Clay (29) and Rishard Matthews (39). Their instant accessibility for a pressured quarterback makes them valuable tools on a decimated Dolphins offense. Look for these two slot receivers to remain heavily involved moving forward. Daniel Thomas (ankle) is out indefinitely, and Lamar Miller will finally gain full control of the backfield, though there is not much left to inherit on a team ranked 28th in rushing.

Greg Jennings (Achilles) likely will play in a limited capacity. Consider avoiding him and the rest of Minnesota’s 26th ranked pass attack. The Vikings should continue to lean on Adrian Peterson, while Christian Ponder struggles to find Jerome Simpson and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.

Aaron Dobson will not play in Houston Sunday, leaving more passes to distribute among Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and the always frightening Rob Gronkowski. The Texans boast the best pass defense in the league, and should force New England to beat them with their four-headed rush attack. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen this week with Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Some owners are left with little option outside of this frustrating backfield. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Darren Sproles is probable for Monday Night Football in Seattle. That directly impacts the upside of Pierre Thomas, who has absorbed much of Sproles’ workload in his recent absence. During week 12 alone, Thomas carried the ball 10 times for 73 yards (7.3 yards per attempt) and caught five passes for another 57 yards. Thomas has not made fewer than five receptions since October 27.

Hakeem Nicks is listed as probable to play at Washington, which has a dampening effect on Rueben Randle’s upside. The second-year wideout has managed to create a lot of offense even with Nicks on the field, though. With both receivers active from weeks five to 11, Nicks earned 30 catches for 390 yards and no scores, while Randle made 18 receptions for 298 yards and six touchdowns. The Giants are only 18th in the league in passing, 25th in passing touchdowns, and 27th in total offense. Try to leave anyone from New York on your bench until told otherwise.

Speaking of the Big Apple, Santonio Holmes will be a game-time decision for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. The former Super Bowl MVP has played in only six games this year, totaling a meager 13 grabs for 326 yards and a touchdown. Steer clear of the greater New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, at least as far as fantasy is concerned.

Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, and Eddie Royal are all on San Diego’s injury report. Gates and Mathews are expected to play, but Royal was downgraded to doubtful on Saturday. A healthy Keenan Allen should become a greater factor when these players remain limited in any capacity.

Michael Crabtree is on San Francisco’s active roster, and is not listed on the injury report. Frank Gore (ankle) and Mario Manningham (knee) are each listed as questionable, but are expected to start. Manningham has been a non-factor since returning three weeks ago. He has produced eight catches for 83 yards during his limited action. Gore has not broken 100 yards rushing since week six against Arizona, and has only twice eclipsed that mark in 2013. He is rushing at a career-low 4.1 yards per carry. Gore remains on pace for 1,133 rushing yards and 10.2 touchdowns.

Zac Stacy (concussion) has been medically cleared to play Sunday. Those who made the speculative pickup of Benny Cunningham will not enjoy the spoils as hoped. Since assuming the starting role in week five, Stacy has ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing (620 yards) and third in carries (140).

When Tampa Bay running back Mike James lost his season to a broken ankle in week 10, backup Brian Leonard stepped up to rush 20 times for 57 yards. Bobby Rainey rushed eight times for 45 yards and a touchdown in that game. Since then, Rainey has earned 48 carries for 198 and two scores, while Leonard has seen only five carries for 19 yards. The pecking order is clear, for now anyway. If you grabbed the wrong guy off waivers, there’s not much you can do now but chew off all your remaining fingernails.

Jordan Reed (concussion) is questionable to return Sunday after missing the game against San Francisco last week. The tight end is confident he will play, but check his final status before kickoff. Robert Griffin III is certainly hoping for his 6-foot-3 target to return. In last week’s loss to the 49ers, Griffin only managed 118 yards passing for no touchdowns and one interception.

Stats and data courtesy of,,, and

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