Game environment is the foundational starting point in making fantasy decisions. As such, I’m going to break down each game on the slate into three categories: Binge, Stream and Skip.
Games you want to “binge” are like the show you can’t miss; you’re watching as soon as it goes live and might just crush all the episodes in one weekend. These are the start-all-your-guys fantasy games and ones with season-defining storylines.
Games you want to “stream” are like the shows you certainly watch start to finish, but perhaps you’re finishing it over time instead of one shot. While these games might not feature a ton of “must-starts,” we can pick and choose our spots, and the teams are likely to matter in the NFL playoff picture.
Lastly, the games you want to “skip” are like the shows you’re leaning toward passing on, but you might catch an episode here and there (or might stick to reading recaps online to stay up with the culture). There will be a non-obvious player or two who stands out in these games, but overall, they aren’t the best environment for fantasy football.
Let’s dive into my Week 13 Fantasy Football Viewer’s Guide.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Week 13 brings us a rematch of last season’s fateful NFC Championship game and what could very well be a preview of this year’s edition. It’s easy to forget how quickly into that game Brock Purdy left with his elbow injury. There were seven minutes left in the first quarter when the 49ers snapped the ball, Hassan Reddick blew through to sack Purdy, force a fumble, and render the quarterback inoperable the rest of the day.
Now we’ll finally get a look at these two teams close to fully operational, a duel where clearly with how salty all of their players were after last season, the 49ers like their odds. San Francisco just reminded the world on Thanksgiving how they can tarnish a team when all their skill-position players are healthy. The entire offense will be available against an Eagles defense that’s struggled to stop the pass this season. That could be trouble, especially considering Purdy has been nearly flawless since coming off the bye week.
Since Week 10 Purdy leads all quarterbacks in completion rate (75.3%), yards per attempt (10.4), success rate (53.7%) and good old-fashioned passer rating (131.6). Try as “we” might to find ways to explain away league-best production from him, Purdy is just playing darn good football right now.
The Eagles aren’t quite the same Death Star team as last season, but they have a similar “Don’t overthink it” vibe to the Purdy discussion. This is a 10-1 team with premier players at premium positions across the roster. Philadelphia can represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’re that caliber of team, even if the way they’ve won this year has awarded them fewer style points.
Biggest Storyline: Can the Eagles continue to grit their way through? Some of us want to avoid cliches and have big-brain football discourse but again, the Eagles beg us not to make this more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes it’s silly to say a team is gritty, that it just knows how to win in big moments, but as I wrote in my Sunday Care/Don’t Care recap column, that identity is woven into the Eagles’ DNA. Tej Seth of Sumer Sports helps quantify that with actual data:
the eagles have been by far the best team in the league when trailing this season
offensively they have a 0.28 EPA/play when losing (which is double the ravens in 2nd at 0.14)
jalen hurts has a 0.43 EPA/play when losing (which is almost double lamar jackson at 0.24)
— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) November 27, 2023
This is who the Eagles are, it’s where they’re comfortable operating and they’ve proven it against quality opponents. It’s still a challenging way to live and the 49ers can drop the hammer on you faster than anyone. Philadelphia may be able to avoid the need for late-game heroics if it can establish a run game early. Quietly, San Francisco ranks 25th in rushing success rate allowed and has given up big rushing performances to non-threatening run games like the Bengals and the Nick Chubb-less Browns. Keep that in mind when making fantasy lineup decisions on D’Andre Swift.
Stat you need to know: Deebo Samuel’s 13 opportunities were his most since Week 2. There was a clear effort by the 49ers to get Samuel schemed up touches and rolling in the open field. The Eagles typically skimp on the linebacker and safety positions every year and now they’re dealing with some injuries down the spine of that defense. Those are exactly the type of players Samuel can put in the blender. At the same time, the Eagles have played the seventh-highest rate of man coverage this season, per Fantasy Points Data charting, and Brandon Aiyuk is their man-beating receiver. The cornerbacks haven’t played as well for Philly this season.
It’s hard to decide which San Francisco wide receiver is in a better spot this week … so why not both?
Player in a smash spot: A.J. Brown. We could be in line for gorgeous wide receiver showings in this matchup. Brown has been mildly quiet of late — you are legally and morally not allowed to complain or panic about A.J. Brown if you have him on your fantasy team — but we could see him come roaring back this week.
Over the last two weeks, the Eagles have faced two-high safety coverage on 75% (vs. Chiefs) and 71% (vs. Bills) of their pass plays
This is partially why A.J. Brown has been limited to just 6/45/1 receiving (on 13 targets)
For this week… The 49ers have played single-high…
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) November 30, 2023
The 49ers have struggled with perimeter receivers down the field at times this season. Few wideouts dominate those situations quite like A.J. Brown.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS at GREEN BAY PACKERS
A few weeks ago, this may have looked like an uninspiring Sunday Night Football game. This is certainly interesting with the way Jordan Love has played of late. Since Week 9, Love ranks seventh in dropback success rate and third in EPA per play. That first stat matters a lot more to me. At the beginning of the season, Love was pushing the ball downfield and accumulating splash plays but the down-to-down consistency wasn’t there. That’s where he’s evolved over the course of the season. He’s hardly been flawless but as he and his young pass-catchers have continued to get time on task, the growth has been evident. Green Bay has a 55% chance to make the playoffs, per The New York Times predictor — no better indicator of evolution.
The Chiefs dug themselves into a small hole against the Raiders last week but put their foot on the gas and never let up. Kansas City has had its frustrating moments this season but remains one of the best all-around teams in the NFL. They have a 46% chance to get a first-round bye in the playoffs, per NYT.
Biggest Storyline: Can the young Packers continue to ascend? This will be one of the most formidable tests for Jordan Love and co. in this recent hot streak. Steve Spagnulo makes life difficult on quarterbacks with pressure packages and complex coverages. This is an attacking defense. Christian Watson just turned in his best game of the season but will draw a much more challenging matchup with L’Jarius Sneed, who has tracked perimeter wideouts at times this year. Rookies Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks look like the best route runners on this team right now and could be deeper fantasy plays for bye-week-ruined managers.
Stat you need to know: Rashee Rice played a season-high 67% of the snaps in Week 12 and ran a route on 63.2% of the dropbacks. But he checked in with a 4.2 aDOT and 70 of his 107 yards came after the catch. There were a couple of downfield plays sprinkled in for Rice. Those are crucial to track as he develops. For the most part, however, it was not necessarily Rice doing new things in Week 12, just the same old things he’s been doing this season but doing them more often. That’s all we really need to see for fantasy purposes. Hopefully, the Chiefs continue to trust him more and ask him to widen his impact on the offense in new areas.
Player in a smash spot: Isiah Pacheco. The Packers have allowed the seventh-most rushing yards in the NFL and 10 touchdowns. Run defense remains a weak spot. As long as the Chiefs keep this game competitive and Pacheco is in the script, he can turn in an RB1 day.
DENVER BRONCOS at HOUSTON TEXANS
As wild as it may have felt to say this prior to the season, Broncos at Texans is a crucial game for the NFL playoff standings. Each of these upstart AFC teams would see their playoff odds dramatically change with a loss on Sunday.
These two teams are well-coached and have clarity surrounding the identity of their operations. I’m a bit suspicious of the 47.5-point projected total in this game — these defenses have clear-cut strengths, especially defending the pass. This game could end up being a quality watch for NFL purposes but a thin-margin-for-error game in fantasy.
Biggest Storyline: Can the Broncos offense catch up with the defense? Russell Wilson leads all quarterbacks with a 20.1% check-down rate; Jimmy G is second at 16.1%, Justin Fields; 15.8%, Zach Wilson; 15.6%. Wilson has played safe, efficient football and has delivered in big moments. There’s still no denying the passing game has been far from the unit’s engine. Sean Payton has kept Wilson on the tracks and let him color inside the lines. Wilson has been happy to oblige. I’d love to see him cut it loose and be the reason they dominate a good opponent.
Stat you need to know: Among players with 200+ routes, Nico Collins ranks fourth in yards per route run and Tank Dell ranks 14th, per Fantasy Points Data. This duo is playing as well as any wide receiver pairing in the league right now. Seriously. People didn’t realize Nico Collins had this kind of potential because they didn’t watch him play prior to this year. He isn’t a Stroud creation. Dell has simply been a fantastic rookie receiver who thrives on big-boys routes.
The “you’re only allowed to like one WR on a team” zealots are attempting to force a war over Tank Dell and Nico Collins. We will not let them. Don’t allow them to take your freedom to like two receivers from the same team.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 30, 2023
Player in a smash spot: Dalton Schultz, or the primary Houston slot receiver. Schultz didn’t practice this week after suffering a hamstring injury last week. This is a shame because the Broncos have allowed a league-high 783 yards and six scores to tight ends. For good reason, teams don’t want to test their outside corner Patrick Surtain much. So this could trickle down to the slot instead. On the season, Robert Woods and Noah Brown (back at practice) have run 54% of their routes from the inside. They could be good fantasy Hail Mary plays at receiver this week.
CINCINNATI BENGALS at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Biggest Storyline: Calvin Ridley’s emergence as a top dog. He ranks ninth among wide receivers in expected fantasy points the last two weeks, per Fantasy Points Data. The key for Ridley hasn’t been the coincidence of Zay Jones’ presence, it’s the usage on the field.
Second game in a row where working Calvin Ridley on in-breaking routes and from varied alignments produced positive results for Jacksonville pic.twitter.com/04CP8CzFKL
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 26, 2023
Getting Ridley off the line of scrimmage and deployed on routes over the middle lets his route-running shine. He’s not all the way back from a speed perspective, but he remains one of the best technicians in the game. The Bengals rank a stunning 30th in dropback success rate allowed and have really struggled up the middle this season, right where Ridley has been thriving.
Stat you need to know: The Bengals ran 41 plays in Week 12. Yikes. A bad defense with a backup quarterback on offense is a troubling mixture. Ja’Marr Chase needed to catch a tipped pass and bolt for some YAC just to clear 80 yards last week. Jacksonville is a getable matchup but I fear that’s how Chase will have to produce the rest of the way: with pure single-play heroics.
Player in a smash spot: Travis Etienne. The efficiency wasn’t there for Etienne last week but he still touched the ball 24 times despite leaving for stretches with an injury. The Bengals aren’t any better as a run-stop unit, ranking 27th in rushing success rate allowed and 4.6 yards per carry to running backs. Etienne can turn in a top-10 running back performance here, especially if Jacksonville owns the time of possession.
Lastly, because Etienne has been banged up, use this as a reminder to stash D’Ernest Johnson for the stretch run. He’s clearly overtaken Tank Bigsby for the RB2 gig on this team.
MIAMI DOLPHINS at WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
Biggest Storyline: De’Von Achane’s return. The exciting rookie back was activated off IR in Week 11 but played just three snaps before leaving again. He missed last week but is set to play this week. Meanwhile, Raheem Mostert has touched the ball a whopping 43 times the last two weeks as Miami has primarily controlled the script. Achane’s return would demand an alteration in the workload for this backfield.
Stat you need to know:
A lot of empty calorie passing yards but it’s pretty tough to consider what Washington is doing as good offense.
Among QBs with 200+ attempts Howell ranks:
– 20th in EPA per play
– 21st in dropback success rate
– 24th in adjusted net yards per attempt
– 20th in passer rating… https://t.co/VgrtFPb53Y
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) December 1, 2023
It’s stunning that Howell has put up those raw passing stats but there is no auto-start in the pass-catching corps in fantasy. There is a glut of good, underrated players here between McLaurin, Dotson, Samuel and Thomas but still, we have depth receivers, tight ends and non-needle-moving running backs involved in this phonebook usage tree. Beyond that, it’s not a well-designed offense that gives Howell many easy buttons or breathers. He has to process a ton and could do with a simplified picture.
Player in a smash spot: Jaylen Waddle and, obviously, Tyreek Hill. The Commanders secondary has been filleted all season and now predictably can’t pressure the passer. These two are going to run wild through that defense all afternoon. Waddle owned a 53% air yard share in Week 12, with eight targets to 12 for Hill.
DETROIT LIONS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Biggest Storyline: Jared Goff’s slump. Over the last two weeks, he has an 87.9 passer rating, 6.5 adjusted yards per attempt and six turnovers. Both games were at home in seemingly favorable spots. The difference? The Bears and Packers were able to heat Goff up. Per PFF, he was under pressure for 45.5% of his dropbacks in those games and held the ball for 2.93 seconds. Those are the situations where Jared Goff has always struggled. For all his growth in Detroit, that will always be the sticking point. Detroit needs to find a counterpunch to pressure … and fast.
Stat you need to know: Derek Carr’s adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.0 is in the same neighborhood as Aiden O’Connell, Baker Mayfield, Sam Howell and Gardner Minshew. Based on my very scientific Twitter searching, Saints fans are just about fed up with Carr, particularly his work in the red zone. I get it. He’s been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league this season and there are few excuses for it.
Player in a smash spot: Amon-Ra St. Brown. He’s still been able to eat the last two weeks despite Goff’s struggles because he’s the primary outlet when pressure arrives. That should remain the case against the Saints, who play Cover 1 on 27% of their snaps, the fifth most in the league. Teams typically funnel targets to the slot against New Orleans, who have allowed 123 targets to players lined up inside (10th-most).
ARIZONA CARDINALS at PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Biggest Storyline: Can the Steelers’ passing game continue to evolve? With Matt Canada out of the building, we finally saw the Steelers attack the middle of the field.
It is outrageous that it took this long to get up and running but we have arrived. This is how you play efficient offense in today’s NFL. This allowed Pat Freiermuth to go off, recording more receiving yards than any other player in Week 12. He can be a top-seven tight end the rest of the season with this deployment, and the receiver can also become more efficient. I’m not ruling out the Steelers becoming much more watchable with real NFL concepts in their pass game going forward.
Stat you need to know: The Cardinals are fourth in neutral-situation pass rate since Kyler Murray returned. They ranked 32nd in Weeks 1 to 9. The results have been mixed so far but this is proof positive that the Cardinals staff has a ton of faith in Murray. It has brought down the workload of James Conner, who played a season-low 42% of the snaps with 10 touches last week. They are trying out some younger backs.
Player in a smash spot: Both Steelers running backs. The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 852 rushing yards since Week 7, when the team returned from the bye. They had found a coherent, consistent and strong offensive identity prior to ousting Matt Canada. Splitting the work between these two backs has brought out the best of Najee Harris, who has been ripping off explosive runs … which we were led to believe he could not do.
Just a great case of “context matters” and less can be more at this grinder position. The Cardinals were just shredded by Kyren Williams last week and rank 28th in rushing success rate allowed.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS at TENNESSEE TITANS
Biggest Storyline: Gardner Minshew’s play. There’s a narrative out there that Minshew is managing the game and keeping the train on the tracks for the Colts. I’m not so sure about that! Minshew puts the ball in harm’s way a lot and has been close to some back-breaking interceptions the last few weeks. He’s a quality backup quarterback but far from the reason this team has outkicked expectations.
Shane Steichen has done an unreal job coaching up this offense and is pushing all the right buttons just like he did in Philly. Minshew is third among all quarterbacks in RPO dropbacks. He’ll never be the reason they win games, but he can be a solid passenger and distribute the ball to Indy’s hideously underrated starting receivers.
Stat you need to know: Michael Pittman Jr. and Josh Downs combined for 61% of the targets last week. That’s how this distribution should look for this excellent starting duo. Pittman has been so perfect for this system and constantly gets open. Downs has been a pristine separator too and now, they’ll both run into a great matchup in Week 13. That makes Minshew a nice streaming option. The Colts have a really nice wide receiver duo to build around when Anthony Richardson returns, as long as they can retain Pittman, who is set to hit free agency after the year.
Players in a smash spot: Derrick Henry and Zack Moss. The latter is easy, we’ve seen what happens when he plays in relief of Jonathan Taylor. If you have him, you should play him in fantasy. For Henry, he’s never going to dominate the snaps with Tyjae Spears hanging around but he showed last week why he can still thrive in good matchups. The Colts rank 31st in rushing success rate allowed, ahead of only the Panthers, whom Henry crushed last week.
CLEVELAND BROWNS at LOS ANGELES RAMS
Biggest Storyline: Kyren Williams, the ultimate fantasy league finishing move. Williams made his return from IR and demolished the Cardinals. The matchup against Cleveland isn’t as enticing but his possible workload remains as high as anyone in the NFL. He’s a primary receiving outlet and an excellent fit in their man and duo-run concepts.
Stat you need to know: Jerome Ford ran a route on 72% of the dropbacks and garnered seven targets in Week 12. There’s a good chance we get Joe Flacco starting this game. Flacco starting for the Browns, of all teams, in the year 2023, is hard to process. I’m confident in projecting a ton of check-downs from the veteran quarterback. Ford is in a position to garner those.
Player in a smash spot: Puka Nacua. He’s been the primary designed-target player in the Rams offense despite Cooper Kupp being active:
Many factors at play regarding Cooper Kupp’s recent statistical slump, but this is a big one.
Percentage of Kupp’s targets to come on designed plays” per @FantasyPtsData:
Since Week 5, 19% of Puka Nacua’s targets have come on designed plays.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 28, 2023
He’s their best wide receiver right now. With injuries in Cleveland’s secondary and upfront on defense, Nacua can turn some of his recent volume into production.
Side note: Joe, don’t give me hope out here.
Elijah Moore [Career]
Fantasy Points per Route Run
w/ Joe Flacco: 1.12
w/ Everyone Else: 0.25
I’ve waited my whole life for this moment
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 1, 2023
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
One reason to maybe watch: The Patriots running backs. Over the last three games, the Patriots rank second in rushing success rate and third in EPA per rush. Rhamondre Stevenson (50-273-2 TDs, 16 targets) has been the clear lead back while Ezekiel Elliott (28-117, 9 targets) has sprinkled in. It hasn’t made a bit of difference to the Patriots’ sinking offense but it’s been a welcome result for fantasy managers.
Stat you need to know: Justin Herbert has run 16 times for 135 yards the last three games. He’s scrambled 10 times in the last two alone. Herbert has more athletic ability than he usually shows. He’s not the fastest to take off and scramble but he’s been rolling of late. If ever there was a stat that showed the stagnation of the Chargers offense, it’s this one. Other than getting the ball to Keenan Allen in the short areas, there’s not much going right for Los Angeles.
ATLANTA FALCONS at NEW YORK JETS
One reason to maybe watch: Any further ascension for Bijan Robinson. The rookie had 22 opportunities to 10 for Tyler Allgeier and eight for Cordarrelle Patterson. That’s a healthy split there, especially since Robinson was involved in the passing game. Robinson and Drake London combined for a whopping 62% target share. The Falcons are watchable if they can just focus on getting the ball to their two stars on offense.
Stat you need to know: Since Week 6 the Jets rank 32nd in rushing EPA and 31st in rushing success rate. That’s every game following Hall’s eruption game against the once-floundering Broncos. Robert Saleh drew a bunch of undeserved criticism from the masses for saying Hall needed to get tough yards and not hit home runs, but the stats bear his case. Plus, Hall responded well to the challenge:
Plenty of ways to dunk on the Jets right now but this wasn’t one of them. Shoutout to Breece Hall for showing excellent ability to take constructive criticism. pic.twitter.com/kH03f7WKtE
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 30, 2023
Nothing is going right for the Jets this season, including the running game. This is not all Hall’s fault but he has left some yards on the field. Their best bet is to get him involved in the passing game but previous coordinator Mike LaFleur had much better ideas on how to get that done than Nathaniel Hackett.
CAROLINA PANTHERS at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
One reason to maybe watch: See Mike Evans dunk on the Panthers. Evans is fourth in the NFL in air yards this season and is top-12 in market share of his team’s receiving yards. He’s on pace for 1,300 yards in his 10th season and should hit double-digit touchdowns for the fifth time in his career.
What an incredible player. The Panthers have had injury issues on their back end all season and rank 21st in dropback success rate allowed. Evans has a super high ceiling this week.
Stat you need to know: Bryce Young in the three games Thomas Brown called plays: 2:3 TD:INT ratio, 5.5 YPA and 13 sacks taken. They aren’t going to suddenly remake the offense just because Frank Reich is out the door. The Panthers did get their lone win of the season in a game where Brown was calling plays but the other two were some of their worst offensive outputs of the season. I don’t see a lot of hope that things will change structurally or results-wise for the Panthers down the stretch.