For many fantasy owners, this is the final week of the regular season. You’re getting ready for your league playoffs, and this is no time to get sloppy. The very fact that you’re reading this article gives you a leg up on the competition, right?
As noted previously, each position below will have a list of weekly “must starts” to go along with the usual recommendations. They’re players that warrant “no-think” fantasy status due to talent, workloads or both, regardless of opponent. The lists are subject to change, but additions and deletions will be made sparingly. Also, if a player is ever “removed until further notice,” it doesn’t mean you need to bench him; it just indicates that his status has become a week-to-week proposition that depends on the rest of your roster.
If you disagree with any of the selections, or want to offer some of your own, please post a comment at the bottom of the page. We’ll be here every Thursday until the end of your fantasy season.
Thursday games: The Eagles host pugilist/WR Andre Johnson and the Texans in this week’s NFL Network tilt. Set your lineups accordingly.
Start him: Brett Favre, Vikings
What? The most anti-Favre fantasy football column in existence, which usually recommends benching Mr. Wrangler Jeans even when he’s playing against Wayzata High School, says you should start him? Absolutely. All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson might be hampered – or even out – this week due to a sprained ankle, and even though rookie Toby Gerhart is a solid back, such a scenario would probably put the game in Favre’s hands a bit more. Also, the Bills can’t stop anyone. Only seven teams have allowed more touchdown passes, they have just four interceptions, and their 295 points allowed is fourth-worst in the NFL. If the Ol’ Gunslinger is going to make a last stand, it should be this week.
Also: Matt Cassel is starting in just over a third of FoxSports.com leagues, which is baffling. The Chiefs’ underrated QB has thrown 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions this season, with four scoring passes in two of his last three games. The Broncos come to Kansas City this week, and the only good thing you can say about their pass defense (20th in yards allowed, 31st in TDs allowed) is that it isn’t as bad as their run defense. Cassel is going to carve them up in his usual efficient, understated way.
Sit him: Jay Cutler, Bears
Cutler was in this spot last week, and he spited us by throwing four touchdowns. Thanks, Jay! We’re not exactly down on Cutler from a performance standpoint this week. It’s just that with the Bears’ defense ready to terrify third-string Lions QB Drew Stanton, the bet here is that Cutler will be doing a lot of handing off with a big lead. The Bears have called more runs than passes for four consecutive weeks, by the way.
Pick him up: Jason Campbell, Raiders
Bruce Gradkowski is probably done for the season with a separated shoulder, so Campbell has his job back. Campbell isn’t terrific by any means, but he does have a road matchup on tap with the porous Jaguars’ pass defense (261 yards per game, last in quarterback rating against) in Week 14. If you’re playing matchups with your QB position, that’s a good one to target.
Injury watch: Adrian Peterson sprained his ankle in Week 12, and his status for this week is up in the air. Start him if he’s active, but make sure he’s playing before putting him in your lineup.
Removed due to injury: Frank Gore, who fractured his hip on Monday night and is out for the season.
Start him: Felix Jones, Cowboys
With Marion Barber expected to miss this week’s game due to a calf injury, Jones appears likely to get a heavy workload against the Colts. You know who gives up more yards per carry than the Colts? The Redskins, and nobody else. It’s like the fantasy gods are giving you Jones on a silver platter.
Also: Brandon Jacobs carried 14 times for 87 yards in his return to the starting tailback role for the Giants last week, and he gets to run on the aforementioned (and putrid) Redskins on Sunday. It’s a good thing the G-Men have some offensive linemen injured, or it wouldn’t even be a fair fight when the Giants run the ball.
Sit him: Darren McFadden, Raiders
Two weeks ago, McFadden was a no-brainer of a fantasy starter. After carrying 18 times for 16 yards over the past two games, his owners are beside themselves with worry … and maybe they should be. Here’s the Contra Costa Times on McFadden: “Privately, the coaching staff is concerned that he’s not running as he did before.” Between that comment and this week’s road matchup against the scorching-hot Chargers, it’s probably time to give McFadden a day off.
Also: New England’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been solid all season, but the Jets are allowing just 86.3 yards per game on the ground. You should find a backup plan for BJGE on Monday.
Pick him up: Anthony Dixon, 49ers
With Gore done for the season, Brian Westbrook is everyone’s favorite free-agent target this week. That’s understandable, since the former Eagle gained 136 yards in Gore’s stead on Monday night, and has good hands out of the backfield. Just remember that Westbrook is 31 years old, not very big at 203 pounds, and missed a bunch of time last season due to concussion-related issues. It’s OK to like Westbrook, but trusting him is another matter.
Dixon, a rookie out of Mississippi State, is a bigger back who figures to get the goal-line carries. And if Westbrook gets hurt … jackpot. Westbrook can be useful in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, and we’re not telling you to avoid him, but all your competitors are fighting over him already. Zig when they zag, and grab Dixon. The potential payoff is a big one, and you’re more likely to get him.
Also: If Peterson can’t play this week, Toby Gerhart will get enough work to be considered as a fantasy starter … Mike Hart is due back for the Colts after missing four games with a sprained ankle. The way the Colts ran last week, you have to think they’ll try to get Hart back in the mix, especially with Joseph Addai still out … Maurice Morris may have gotten a couple of touchdowns for the Lions on Thanksgiving, but Aaron Brown had more touches. If Jahvid Best’s turf toe issues keep lingering, Brown could begin to make an impact soon. It probably won’t be this week against the Bears, though.
Must starts (13): (WR – 10) Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Roddy White, Brandon Lloyd, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson; (TE – 3) Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Jacob Tamme
Close, but not quite: Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew, whose presence as a safety net may make him quarterback Drew Stanton’s new best friend.
Removed until further notice: Miles Austin and Vernon Davis. Austin has nine receptions on 17 targets in his last four games. Despite his three touchdowns, he’s not getting the ball enough to warrant must-start status.
Injury watch: Giants’ WR Hakeem Nicks is expected to miss two more weeks with a leg injury … Gates (foot) played in Week 12, and should be fine for Week 13, even if he described his injury this week as feeling “like a hot knife sticking in your foot.” Once again, if Gates is active, start him … Raiders TE Zach Miller bruised his lower leg to add to his existing foot injury, so he’s coming off the must-start list.
Start him: Randy Moss, Titans
Remember him? Moss has caught just four passes for 49 yards in three games as a Titan, proving once again that Bill Belichick is smarter than everyone else. However, the Titans have a home matchup against the terrible Jaguars’ pass defense this Sunday, and they might even get QB Kerry Collins back. Unless you really think Moss is fading into Bolivian, as Mike Tyson might say, give him the chance to bounce back in Week 13.
Also: Eagles TE Brent Celek had three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown in Week 12, and his eight targets were his highest total since Week 5. He … is … alive!
Sit him: Santana Moss, Redskins
Start a Moss, sit a Moss. Santana has had a productive but inconsistent season, with strong totals of 62 receptions, 778 yards and three touchdowns. This week, Moss and the ‘Skins visit the Giants, who have allowed the fewest passing yards in the league (186 per game).
Moss has been up and down in 2010, and this week looks to be one of the downs.
Pick him up: Jacoby Ford, Raiders
It’s hard to argue with a guy who’s had two 100-yard games in his last three, right? Ford has blazing speed, and has been targeted 27 times in those three outings. There’s not a lot of explosiveness in the Raiders’ receiving corps, unless you count the speedy but butterfingered Darrius Heyward-Bey. Ford is a borderline play this week against the Chargers, and a strong one in Weeks 14 and 15 against the Jaguars and Broncos.
Also: Rams’ rookie WR Danario Alexander came back from a three-game injury absence to catch four passes for 95 yards in Week 12, and he came up about a foot short of a touchdown in the second quarter. Alexander is the best deep threat at QB Sam Bradford’s disposal, and he’s likely to stay busy.
Good luck in Week 13!
John Halpin writes his “Wide Write” fantasy football column every week during the NFL season for FoxNews.com. He also writes fantasy columns and early-morning blogs four days a week at FoxSports.com/fantasy, and co-hosts a daily fantasy podcast. You can receive more fantasy news and contact John by following him on Twitter (@jhalpin37), or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.