The 49ers, Browns, Colts and Raiders give up the most yards in the NFL, respectively. The Browns are on bye this week and the other three teams face subpar offenses. The 49ers are at Chicago; Indy plays at the Jets and the Raiders get the Bills in Oakland. With no-brainer matchups harder to find, we’ll have to dig a little deeper this week if we want to strike fantasy gold.
On to Week 13 …
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Bears (vs. 49ers) Sunday, noon
The 49ers are just bad enough that there might be some fantasy value to be found on the lakefront this weekend. True, the Bears score fewer points than any NFL team not coached by Jeff Fisher, but they do produce a reasonable 350 yards per game. Defensively, San Fran is dead last in the league in points (31.3 per game) and yards (424.5) allowed. They are absolutely horrific against the run. Their 171.8 rushing yards allowed per game is 30 more than the rushing yards yielded by the 31st-ranked Browns. For perspective sake, the 49ers give up 230 percent more rushing yards per game than do the Ravens.
The big question for Jordan Howard owners is whether OC Dowell Loggains can let go of his fascination (obsession?) with the passing game and give his emerging RB a steady stream of carries. If you are in absolute dire need of a QB, Matt Barkley has a chance to produce in this game. For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde are solid plays.
Must start: Howard
Solid play: None
Worth a look: Barkley, Marquess Wilson, Connor Barth
Last resort: Cameron Meredith, Daniel Brown, Bears D/ST
Stay away: Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy
Falcons (vs. Chiefs) Sunday, noon
Kansas City is known for its tough defense, but the Chiefs are giving up 382 yards per game. Only four teams (Raiders, Colts, Browns 49ers) have surrendered more yards this season. The Chiefs, however, are much stingier on the scoreboard. They are ranked eighth in scoring defense at 19.5 points per game. Atlanta and its high-powered offense should give KC all it can handle in this game.
The Falcons are the highest scoring team in the NFL, averaging 32.5 points per game. They are fourth in total yards behind only New Orleans, Washington and Tennessee. Atlanta will have to figure a way to contain Justin Houston, who had three sacks last week in Denver, just his second game of the season. Tevin Coleman was a little rusty (eight carries for nine yards and a TD) in his return last week. He’s a solid sleeper candidate this week.
Must start: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones
Solid play: Mohamed Sanu, Matt Bryant
Worth a look: Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, Falcons D/ST
Last resort: Austin Hooper
Stay away: Levine Toilolo
Saints (vs. Lions) Sunday, noon
You don’t need to read a fantasy football column to know you’ll be starting Drew Brees. More interesting is the evaluation of the other Saints likely to produce against a so-so Lions defense. Brandin Cooks had caught a minimum of two passes in every game of his professional career (and at least three in all but two games) until last Sunday. Against the Rams, Cooks went without so much as a target. Outside of Brees, every New Orleans player carries some risk. Michael Thomas has emerged as the top target in the offense, but he could be out-produced in a given week by Cooks or even Willie Snead. Mark Ingram has returned from his brief stay in Sean Payton’s doghouse and clearly has more to offer – in both fantasy and reality – than does Tim Hightower.
Must start: Brees, Ingram, Thomas
Solid play: Hightower, Cooks, Will Lutz
Worth a look: Snead, Coby Fleener
Last resort: Brandon Coleman
Stay away: Saints D/ST
Chargers (vs. Bucs) Sunday, 3:25
It would be feasible to list San Diego as an “avoid” this week. After all, Tampa is on a three-game tear in which the Bucs have given up fewer than 11 points per game. They kept the Seahawks out of the end zone in a 14-5 win last week. But we’re going against the grain a bit. We’ll sign off on Tampa having an improving defense, but it’s impossible to believe it's gone from a bottom-five unit to a shut-down D’ in the matter of a few weeks. Philip Rivers has faced some tough defenses this season, including two games against Denver. Playing at home, and on a bit of a roll of his own, he should be able to produce above-average results this week.
Must start: Melvin Gordon
Solid play: Rivers, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Josh Lambo
Worth a look: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates*, Chargers D/ST
Lions (@ Saints), Sunday, noon
The Saints are five-point favorites in a game featuring the week’s highest over/under (53). That leaves Detroit with an expected point total of about 24, which is over their average of 22.5. Matthew Stafford is an excellent play against a suspect passing defense.
Steelers (vs. Giants) Sunday, 3:25
The Giants defense is giving up just 19.4 points per game, but they’ll be hard-pressed this week to keep Pittsburgh under 27. New York is much better against the run (fifth) than the pass (23rd). It stacks up as a big day for Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Bengals (vs. Eagles) Sunday, noon
Cincinnati tends to play better at home, but its arrow is definitely pointing downward of late. The Bengals were completely shut down last week in Baltimore and have not crested 20 points during their current three-game losing streak. The last time they won was Week 7 against Cleveland. For the season, the once formidable Bengals offense is 27th in points scored. Philly’s seventh-ranked defense has been inconsistent, but should have enough to slow down the struggling Bengals.
Must start: None
Solid play: Tyler Eifert
Worth a look: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Boyd, Bengals D/ST
Last resort: Rex Burkhead, Brandon LaFell
Stay away: Mike Nugent
Rams (@ Patriots) Sunday, noon
The good news: First overall pick Jared Goff threw three TDs last week in New Orleans. The bad news: Goff had just 214 yards and turned the ball over twice. The Rams could manage just 247 yards in a 49-21 loss against one of the league’s worst defenses. Todd Gurley has been held to 50 or fewer yards in four games and has not had more than 85 yards rushing in any game this season. The Rams are a bad team and they are headed for a beat-down in Foxborough.
Must start: None
Solid play: None
Worth a look: Gurley, Lance Kendricks
Last resort: Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Rams D/ST
Stay away: Goff, Greg Zuerlein
Dolphins (@ Ravens) Sunday, noon
The surging Dolphins have won six in a row, but they bring in the 25th-ranked offense to face a defense ranked second in yards and fourth in points allowed. This is a tough matchup for Jay Ajayi – the Ravens are tops against the run and allow just 3.4 yards per carry.
Must start: None
Solid play: Ajayi, DeVante Parker*
Worth a look: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Dolphins D/ST
Last resort: Kenny Stills, Dion Sims
Stay away: Andrew Franks
Panthers (@ Seahawks) Sunday, 7:30
These teams are no longer the class of the NFC and both squads have been wildly inconsistent. This game could go a number of directions, but the most likely scenario has Carolina’s offense struggling in the unfriendly confines in Seattle.
*Check injury status