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Fantasy Football Week 13 Preview: It’s time to prepare for the playoffs

Related: Fantasy Football Recap: Tyreek Hill has historic day in a historically long week

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs!

No, they are not here yet, but they are so close you can taste them. Whether you have already clinched a spot in your leagues playoffs or are still battling, a win this week is always important in terms of seeding. But remember, your goal here isn't to just make the playoffs, it's to win the whole damn thing. So, start preparing to do so.

How should you do that? Well, I’m glad you asked. To start, pick up your best running backs handcuff. We’ve told the top teams in the league to do this already numerous times throughout the year, so if you still haven't, what are you waiting for? Look at your roster right now. What if Derrick Henry pulls a hamstring next week and the Titans shut him down until the playoffs? What if the same thing happens to Alvin Kamara, who’s production has already taken a hit in recent weeks due to Taysom Hill, the week before the playoffs? Heck, Dalvin Cook went down just last week with an ankle injury that has left him limited in practice this week. You made the right move drafting one of the few fantasy workhorse running backs and have been rewarded by them most likely carrying you to the playoffs. Don’t let an unfortunate injury down the stretch completely derail your championship aspirations.

Besides that, start looking at matchups for the last two or three weeks of the season — especially for those teams that have already clinched. If you have been consistently filling your FLEX spot with a new player each week, don't be afraid to pick someone up now who has a favorable stretch of games in the playoffs. A player like Sterling Shepard (who is available in over 40 percent of ESPN leagues) has been extremely consistent over his last five games. He now will face a string of defenses that allow the first-, fourth-, and eighth-most fantasy points to wide receivers over the next three weeks.

This is same tactic is especially true for defenses. A big scoring output by a defense gives you a massive edge in a playoff game (may I interest you in the Cleveland Browns who have a Week 16 matchup with the New York Jets). Again, these moves are easier to make if you have already clinched a spot, but if you can afford letting the last player on your bench go, it is completely worth it.

And lastly, maybe take a flier on a player who is available because they are currently out with an injury. Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz has missed their last five games, but is scheduled to return soon and could perhaps find some late season success. Sticking with the extremely weak tight end position, San Francisco’s George Kittle is “optimistic” about returning to play this season. If you can afford to stash one of those guys on your bench and play the waiting game, you might have one of the league’s best tight ends in your starting lineup come championship weekend.

Okay I lied, now lastly: you need to win this week to either clinch a spot in the playoffs or improve your seed. So, let’s preview everything you need to know to go and win Week 13:

On Bye: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers

Quarterbacks

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Start ‘Em

Ryan Tannehill vs Cleveland

After a pair of poor performances, Tannehill has been back around the 20.0 fantasy point per game mark the past two weeks. The Browns pass defense is about league average, but are much worse on the road. When traveling, Cleveland has allowed 13 touchdowns and an average of more than 25 fantasy points to enemy QBs. They have also given up back-to-back multi-touchdown games to Carson Wentz and Mike Glennon. Start Tannehill with confidence this week.

Cam Newton at Los Angeles Chargers

Newton will look to bounce back this week after throwing for just 84 yards in last week’s win. This week, he should be able to take advantage of a Chargers’ defense that has surrendered rushing touchdowns to Joe Burrow, Taysom Hill, and Josh Allen this season. Despite the playmakers on LA’s defense, they have given up a passing touchdown every game besides Week 1, and an average of two passing touchdowns per game over their last six weeks.

More Starts: Taysom Hill at Atlanta, Derek Carr at New York Jets

Sit ‘Em

Matt Ryan vs New Orleans

We mentioned last week the difference in Matt Ryan’s performance when Julio Jones is playing and when he is not. In five games with a healthy Julio, Ryan has averaged 23.7 fantasy points per game. In the other six games without Julio, Ryan’s per game average sinks to just 10.0. Looking at this week, Julio has yet to practice this week, making his status for Sunday highly unlikely. Ryan also has an extremely tough matchup with the Saints’ defense that has found its groove — allowing the fewest fantasy points to QBs from Weeks 8-11. Stay away from Matty Ice in Week 13.

Kyler Murray vs Los Angeles Rams

Murray most likely won't be on your bench this week, but proceed with caution. The injury to his right shoulder is clearly hampering him, as both his rush attempts and average depth of throw decreased the last two weeks. He also put up his first stinker of the year (7.9 fantasy points) last week against New England, as he failed to score a touchdown and score over 20.0 fantasy points for the first time all season. He’ll now face a division rival that has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to QBs over the past four weeks.

More Sits: Carson Wentz at Green Bay, Andy Dalton at Baltimore

Sleeper: Kirk Cousins vs Jacksonville

Captain Kirk! Cousins has now tossed 11 touchdowns over his last four games while scoring over 20 fantasy points in three of those games. He’s taken advantage of a string of good matchups and get’s another one this week against Jacksonville. The Jaguars has been terrible on the road this year, allowing the most fantasy points per game to home quarterbacks. Cousins will also have a full arsenal of weapons this week as Adam Thielen (Covid-19) has been activated. Start Captain Kirk if needed.

Running Backs

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Start ‘Em

Wayne Gallman Jr. at Seattle

If you’ve been following our recaps and previews the past few weeks, you are definitely familiar with Gallman by now. Gallman has scored six touchdowns in his last five games and has been the eighth best fantasy running back since Week 8. Gallman has not been able to rush for many yards, largely due to a stretch of games against above-average run defenses, but broke off for a season-high 94 yards last week against Cincinnati. This week, he’ll get a Seattle defense that is below average in terms of run defense — allowing an average of 24.8 fantasy points per game to running backs. Keep Gallman in your lineups.

Miles Sanders at Green Bay

Miles Sanders had a total of six carries last week, something that cannot happen for the Philadelphia Eagles. Sanders should be in line for much more work this week and it comes at a great time. The Packers defense has allowed a running back to rush for 163 yards, 109 yards, 90 yards and 103 yards in four of their last five games. Sanders could be in line for his best game of the season.

More Starts: Raheem Mostert vs Buffalo, Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs Denver

Sit ‘Em

Giovani Bernard at Miami

Bernard has been held to 55 yards or fewer over the last three weeks — scoring less than nine fantasy points in each game. He’ll now travel to Miami to face a Dolphins’ defense that has given up just two rushing touchdowns at home this season — both to Seattle’s Chris Carson in Week 4. Miami has also allowed just one running back (Melvin Gordon in Week 10) to find the end zone since Week 5. With a decreased workload, Bernard is best left on benches.

Todd Gurley vs New Orleans

Even if Gurley is cleared to play, leave him on your bench. No matter who starts for the Falcons at running back, bench them as they square off against PFF’s No. 1 ranked run defense. The Saints defense has allowed the third-fewest yards per carry (3.8) and the fewest rushing touchdowns (3) to running backs this season. Most importantly, they have also allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing backs. Leave any Falcon running back on your bench.

More Sits: Bills Running Backs at San Francisco, Darrell Henderson at Arizona

Sleeper: Devontae Booker at New York Jets

With Josh Jacobs missing another practice Thursday, his Sunday availability is definitely in question. If he cannot go, Booker becomes an immediate play against the winless New York Jets. The Jets have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns in 11 games this season and game script should be in Booker’s favor. Looking at Jacobs’ stats in wins and losses, he rushes for 94 yards per game and has eight touchdowns in Raiders’ victories, compared to just 44 yards per game and one score in their losses. Those yards and scores will be all Booker’s this week if Jacobs is sidelined.

Wide Receivers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Start ‘Em

Justin Jefferson vs Jacksonville

If you are not on the Griddy Justin Jefferson bandwagon, what have you been waiting for? The most electrifying rookie receiver has been on a tear lately, scoring 17-plus fantasy points in three straight games. Jefferson has been explosive all year with seven games over 65 receiving yards. He’ll now face the Jaguars defense and could have a chance to break 150-plus yards. According to PFF, Jacksonville ranks 29th in explosive pass play percentage, 28th in yards per target and 26th in PFF coverage grade versus 20-plus yard throws. Put Jefferson in your lineup and start learning how to Griddy.

Brandin Cooks vs Indianapolis

It’s not a great matchup on paper, but Cooks’ volume makes him a must start. Over the last eight weeks, Cooks has boasted a 25 percent target share in Houston’s offense. With Will Fuller (21.4 percent target share) now suspended, Cooks will have no issue maintaining, or even improving, his target percentage. Fuller also led the Texans with eight receiving touchdowns, so perhaps some of those opportunities will fall in Cooks’ lap.

More Starts: LA Rams Wide Receivers, Nelson Agholor at New York Jets

Sit ‘Em

CeeDee Lamb at Baltimore

Lamb has been held under 40 receiving yards in four of his last five games as the Dallas Cowboys have played musical chairs at the quarterback position. Even though he’s found the end zone in two of his last three games, he shouldn't be relied on Tuesday (yes, Tuesday) night against Balitmore. The Ravens defense has allowed just 14 passing scores through 10 games this season, fourth in the NFL. They are even tougher against slot receivers, allowing just one touchdown reception to the position.

Marvin Jones Jr. at Chicago

Jones continues to have an impressive second-half of the season, seeing a season-high 12 targets last week. The Week 13 matchup against the Bears is not in his favor however, as Chicago has allowed just four touchdown catches and the third-fewest fantasy points to receivers who line-up out wide this year. His production should also take a hit if Kenny Golladay (hip) returns to play this week.

More Sits: Travis Fulgham at Green Bay, Christian Kirk vs Los Angeles Rams

Sleeper: Denzel Mims vs Las Vegas

Mims has now seen eight targets in three straight games for the Jets while scoring 10-plus fantasy points in all three contests. The speedster should be able to capitalize against a struggling Vegas defense that has allowed the fifth-most passing yards to WRs over the past four weeks. Mims has topped 60 yards in each of the past three games and ranks third in the NFL this season in average targeted air yards (16.1), according to Next Gen Stats. In what could be a high-scoring game, he is certainly a FLEX option with boom potential.

Tight Ends

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Start ‘Em

Jonnu Smith vs Cleveland

Smith put up a big fat zero last weekend as his up-and-down season continued. His matchup this week gets much easier, as Cleveland has given up eight touchdowns to tight ends and the second-most fantasy points to the position this season. Most of the Browns struggles guarding the position have come over the last three weeks, surrendering four touchdowns to four different tight ends and the most points to the position.

T.J. Hockenson at Chicago

Hockenson had an impressive Week 1 matchup against Chicago — finding the end zone as part of a 16.6-fantasy-point afternoon. He should be a strong candidate to repeat his early season success. Chicago has allowed six different tight ends to reach at least 50 receiving yards against them, while eight different tight ends have also scored a touchdown (Hockenson hit both marks in Week 1). Hockenson, who now has the second-most red-zone targets of all tight ends, should be able to find the end zone this week en route to another strong game.

More Starts: Jordan Reed vs Buffalo, Robert Tonyan vs Philadelphia

Sit ‘Em

Jared Cook at Atlanta

Don’t do it. Just don't. The matchup looks great on paper, but Cook has recorded just one catch on five targets over his last three games. It’s a new offense in New Orleans with Taysom Hill under center (60.8 percent run rate the last two weeks), and it’s one that does not involve Jared Cook.

Hunter Henry vs New England

Bill Belichick had a lot to say about Hunter Henry in his Wednesday press conference, which is never a good sign for that player’s production level on Sunday. Even with Los Angeles’ plethora of weapons, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots shutdown Henry on Sunday. New England has allowed just one score and the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends this year. Temper your expectations for Henry this weekend.

More Sits: Noah Fant at Kansas City, Jimmy Graham vs Detroit

Sleeper: Cole Kmet vs Detroit

There has been a changing of the guards at the tight end position for the Chicago Bears. Kmet’s target total has grown the last two games as he has started to play more snaps than Jimmy Graham. Last week against Green Bay, the rookie out-snapped Graham 51-to-23, while running 32 pass routes compared to Graham’s 15. Kmet also saw two targets inside the 10-yard line last week and now faces a Lions defense that has faced the third-most targets to TEs inside the 5-yard line over the last six weeks, according to PFF. It would be no surprise if Kmet found the end zone and what could be the best game of his young career.

Patriots Play of the Week

Arizona Cardinals v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Damien Harris

No matter the week, the Patriots are going to run the football. Harris has the fifth-most rushing yards in the league since coming off the IR in Week 4, as he has seen double-digit carries in every game but one. Yards should be available for Harris on Sunday, as the Chargers are allowing 4.8 yards per carry to runners, tied for third highest in the league. The lone knock on the Alabama-product this season from a fantasy standpoint has been his inability to find the end zone, as Rex Burkhead and James White have vultured several scores from the second-year back. He has a strong chance to potentially find pay dirt this week however, as LA has allowed seven rushing touchdowns in their last six games (and he does not have to worry about Burkhead — injured reserve — stealing any more scores).

That is all for this week’s preview. If you have any additional questions regarding your lineup, specific players, or strategies going forward, leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter @iambrianhines. As always, I’m rooting for you!