Seriously, if you have a reason to read this column in Week 13, your season has gone better than it's gone worse, you're still alive, and, in a tough, injury-filled season, that's an impressive accomplishment. So, well done, Internet friend!
My philosophy in general is to be risk-averse unless there is massive upside that makes the risk worth it, but, in Week 13 especially, I like to go safe and conservative unless I'm in a situation in which, for whatever reason, I need to swing for the fences. So today's column is with that in mind.
I'm actually putting my warning up top this week in the desperate hope that you'll use this column correctly. Please read my ranks if you are wondering whom to start between two players. Yes, I have Andrew Luck on the "hate" list. But I'm still playing him over, say Joe Flacco. Every week, I get the "I have so-and-so and so-and-so, but you have (one of them) on your hate list, what should I do?" What you should do, my friend, is check my rankings. Or, better yet, go with your own gut. You know your team and rules better than anyone, it's do-or-die time, you're the only one who has to live with what happens. Make a call you believe in, not just what I or anyone else thinks. Remember that.
I will say that, in many cases, your season is now one game long. If there is someone on your waiver wire who can help you, go out and get him. And with that in mind, here's a list of players I would have no issue dropping if you aren't planning to start them. I'm not saying you must drop them, but merely that, if you are not planning to start them, there's no need to have them on your team if there's a free-agent defense or a one-week running back who can help you win now.
Here's a list of players owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues, by position, who don't need to be carried on your bench if there are more helpful guys out there who can help you right now, or handcuffs to your starters who would become more valuable than your current player should an injury befall him.
Running backs: Vick Ballard, Rashard Mendenhall, Willis McGahee (73 percent owned still!), Isaac Redman, Donald Brown, Felix Jones, Any Saints running back not named Darren Sproles, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Peyton Hillis.
Wide receivers: DeSean Jackson, Brandon Lloyd (sigh -- officially my worst call of the year), Antonio Brown, Anquan Boldin, Robert Meachem, Nate Washington, Jeremy Maclin, Titus Young, Andre Roberts, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Mario Manningham.
Tight end: I almost never carry more than one tight end. Unless you have a really good guy who is injury-prone (Aaron Hernandez) who can sometimes be a late scratch, I would keep only the guy you're starting on your roster.
Again, if you need to win to get in, your season is one game. Get in and worry about next week next week. Maximize your roster slots. Be smart and safe where you can. And I have no issue with picking up a player who has no use to you but would help your opponent. Often, a good offense is just a good defense and, hey, that guy had a shot at the free agent, as well. You snooze, you lose. This is do-or-die time. As long as it is within the rules, you do what you gotta do. Take, for example, the case of Andy. He's been running a league with high school friends since 1997. It's a coed league with three women and nine guys, and it includes one married couple. Well, it did.
Just before the season started, the league learned that the couple were divorcing. But it was an amicable divorce, and both said they would like to continue to be in the league and neither had an issue with the other staying in. So the season starts and, in what might be a fantasy football league first, "Another female owner in the league, who is friends with the wife, swooped in and started dating the husband before the divorce papers were even signed!" Andy told me.
The drama doesn't stop there, Andy explained. "She has never said anything about it to the wife, her now former friend, of course, and the wife had to find out about the relationship via Facebook."
So, here we are in Week 13 and Andy needs to win to make the playoffs. And the team he is facing? The "swooper." The swooper has the highest-scoring team in the league, so Andy is already an underdog, but there is a glimmer of hope in this 12-team league. The swooper just lost Willis McGahee, and, like most of us, had backed him up with Ronnie Hillman. Which means Knowshon Moreno is still out on the wire. The swooper has $34 left in FAAB money, and Andy has only $28 left.
Down but not out, Andy realizes he has to leave it all out on the virtual field. What he does next is as good an example of an "Oh yeah? This isn't over until I say it's over!" move in fantasy football as I've ever seen. Because, you see, the ex-wife has $80 left in FAAB.
Andy presents the situation to her and, despite her being out of the playoff race, she is more than happy to spend the money and keep Moreno away from the swooper! Andy still has to play this weekend, but at least his opponent has a weakness, and we've all learned a valuable lesson. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially one with FAAB money to blow.
Quick housekeeping notes before we get to the names. It's Jimmy V week, so it's a good time to remind everyone about my Twitter amnesty policy, which is always in effect. If I've blocked you on Twitter and you'd like to be unblocked, just make a donation (of any amount) to the Jimmy V fund and send a copy of the receipt and your Twitter name to MatthewBerryTMR@gmail.com. Be sure to put "TWITTER" in the subject header. If you want advice, Facebook and Twitter are still the best ways to get a hold of me; I don't respond to email from that email address.
Finally, I tend to get a lot of questions asking how I do in my own leagues. I tend to think most people care only about their own teams, but, for the record, I am in eight leagues and, if the playoffs started today, would be in the postseason in seven of them. Despite fourth-highest points for (and some injury issues), having the most points scored against us in my longtime dynasty keeper league will keep my old college roommate and me out of the playoffs in that league.
Since we talk about it a lot on the podcast and on "Fantasy Football Now," it's natural that the most questions I get are about the 16-team PPR "War Room" league with all my ESPN colleagues that I wrote about here awhile back. In that one, I am in a weird situation. I am second in points scored and have done a really good job in a very competitive league, but I am also second in points against. I play Mark Schlereth this week. If I win, I am the No. 2 seed and have a first-round bye. If I lose, I am out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker -- unless two other teams also lose. Right now, both of those teams are favored to win.
I am convinced I am going to lose, and it will drive me up a wall. Mark has some great matchups this week (Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Owen Daniels), and I'm really banged up (Percy Harvin, Danny Amendola, Matt Forte) plus my other guys (Vincent Jackson, Forte/Michael Bush again) have brutal matchups. It's seriously gonna drive me insane, and I am convinced I'm losing to Mark, who, last year, when I was also the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, knocked me out of the semis when Brent Celek went out and had the game of his life. Sigh.
Anyway, I wish you much luck this week. Be sure to watch "Fantasy Football Now" at 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, or join us at Fantasy Surround and get the show on WatchESPN.com . You'll get the latest news and updates right up to the start of the games. Here we go.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 13
Matthew Stafford, Lions: He's back, baby. Ignore the awkward sidearm action and cringe-worthy mechanics and focus on the fact that the Lions are throwing it a ton and he's been great in a dome. Even before last week's 61-pass-attempt shootout with Houston, Stafford was averaging 42 pass attempts a game, most in the NFL. When playing in a dome, he has averaged 343 passing yards and two TDs a game. The Colts' banged-up secondary is allowing 289 passing yards on the road and I'm going against Calvin Johnson in a must-win game for me, so you just know he'll go off.
Cam Newton, Panthers: Ah, there's the Cam we remember. No, he's not playing the Eagles, but he might as well be. The Chiefs allow the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and have given up at least two touchdowns to them in five of their past six. The running is what keeps Cam's potential floor so high; at least 30 yards rushing in six of the past seven, not to mention three rushing touchdowns in the past four games, as well. The passing and the running will combine to make a tasty fantasy sandwich for your opponent to eat. After all, they don't call him Ham Newton for nothing. What? They don't? Well, they should. That name is awesome. What about Spam Newton? Anything? Hello?
Tony Romo, Cowboys: I'm a glass-half-full guy. So although you might be critical of how insanely wide open Brandon LaFell was Monday night, I prefer to look at the fact that Nnamdi Asomugha took time out on that play to use the sideline phone and get a last-minute deal on a Disney cruise for the team. Priorities, people.
Eli Manning, Giants: Here's the embarrassing part. The Redskins aren't phoning in the season. They're just that bad. I'm not convinced he's all the way back, but, against Washington's 31st-ranked pass defense, it'll sure seem that way. Back in the top 10 this week.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: As @ESPNstatsinfo recently tweeted, Kaepernick has six 30-plus yard pass plays this season on 74 attempts. By comparison, Alex Smith has six 30-plus yard plays on 217 attempts. He has 18 and 19 fantasy points in his two starts, and he had 16 against these same Rams after Alex Smith left the game midway through the second quarter of their Week 10 showdown.
It's not just the throwing but the mobility. You know about the rushing ability, but did you know what he completes? He not only completes 61.1 percent of his passes outside the pocket but he also completes wait for it me.
If you're desperate: I have Brandon Weeden ranked 20th (lower than some of the guys in the hate section), so you'd have to be pretty desperate, but double-digit fantasy points for him in every road game this year, and the Raiders give up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick is very much feast or famine, but more CJ Spiller on the field can only help and the matchup with Jacksonville is certainly right.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 13
Andrew Luck, Colts: Back-to-back games of 13 fantasy points, you probably know about Luck's struggles on the road: just four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. That's the most interceptions on the road by any player in the NFL. He has bailed you out with the rushing TDs in some of those games, but you hate to count on that. And the Lions, believe it or not, are playing pretty decent pass defense these days. Sitting 10th in the NFL, they've allowed more than 250 yards passing just once in the past six weeks, and Matt Schaub needed five quarters to get there. Not a top-10 play for me this week.
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: Denver has a top-10 pass defense and scoring defense, and it's easy to see why. The Broncos have allowed a league low eight, count 'em, eight, completions on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season despite facing the eighth-most attempts. They also have allowed the lowest completion percentage (17.8) on throws more than 20 yards downfield, and Josh's main target, Vincent Jackson, traditionally has struggled versus Denver (more on that later). Denver is also pretty strong against the run, so I don't see play-action being as effective here with Doug Martin. Freeman will be all right, but, again, not a top-12 play.
Chad Henne, Jaguars: Think he'll be OK, but before you get crazy, consider the Bills have been playing better recently over the past two weeks, the Buffalo defense has allowed a 52.3 completion percentage (third best in the league), and its minus-1 TD-Int differential is tied for fourth in the NFL in that span.
Nick Foles, Eagles: "Welcome to the Disney Fantasy Cruise ship! We have some celebrities on board with us today. Everyone give a big welcome to the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, who are taking a much-needed vacation after the seas- (Hand over mike) What? It is? But then how are they Ohhhhh. (Hand back off mike). Folks, a reminder, dinner is served at 6:30 and 8:30. Check your dining card!"
Running backs I love in Week 13
C.J. Spiller, Bills: I'm the only guy who has him in the top five, but, with Chan Gailey's announcement at his news conference that Spiller will get the ball even more, I'm on board in a big way. Dude is averaging -- as in, not his highest, mind you, but is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Want another mind-blowing stat? Only Adrian Peterson averages more yards after contact than Spiller. You heard me. He's a tough tackle, too. Great running back with good matchups (Jags 29th versus the run)? Hello, sailor.
Bryce Brown, Eagles: The only guy not on vacation (rookie hazing, perhaps?); last week was not a fluke. Wrote about him in this column last week, and obviously I stand by what I said then: I really like his skill set. This is a guy who is not only solid between the tackles but ran a 4.3 40. He's the best thing they have going on offense, and I can't see LeSean McCoy playing in this game. Dallas has allowed seven touchdowns and 121 total yards a game to opposing running backs the past seven weeks. Brown is a solid second running back this week.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: I include him here because I just love these stats: His 2.8 yards after contact per rush is the same as Rashad Jennings' total yards per rush, and his 595 yards after contact would rank 21st in the league yardage, ahead of players such as Ryan Mathews, Darren McFadden and Michael Turner.
Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers: Mike Tomlin finally came out and declared what fantasy owners have known for a long time: Pittsburgh's best running back is Jonathan Dwyer. Also that the Steelers would rather be punting on first down and getting their defense back on the field than having Charlie Batch throw it. Anyway, Dwyer is the guy, and I think he'll be decent here in a high-end flex sort of way. Against the Ravens in Week 11, Dwyer averaged 4.6 yards per carry and had 81 total yards on 15 touches. He should get even more work than that, and the Ravens give up 128.5 rush yards per game, seventh-most in NFL.
If you're desperate: Looking as if Darren McFadden is back, but I can't imagine Marcel Reece going back to obscurity. Averaging an insane 7.6 yards per touch (highest in the NFL), Reece is the answer to a great bar bet: Name the only four running backs with at least 40 rushes and 40 catches this year. Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, LeSean McCoy and, you guessed it, Marcel Reece. Speaking of flex plays, Jacquizz Rodgers is coming off a 12-touch game, and I could see him in on a lot of snaps in a high-scoring, pass-happy game. With Mikel Leshoure missing practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, I like Joique Bell against Indy's 20th-ranked run defense if Leshoure is out. It also looks as though Matt Forte will play but maybe Michael Bush will get more work than normal in this game, and it's not as bad a matchup as you might think. Over the past six weeks, the Seahawks have allowed 544 yards inside the tackles, the third-highest total in the league, and 92 of Michael Bush's 106 rushes this year have come inside the tackles. Check on Forte's status, but if he's limited or out, Bush could be a decent flex.
Running backs I hate in Week 13
Ryan Mathews, Chargers: Pick a stat, any stat. Hasn't had 100-yard rushing game since Week 14 of 2011! Hasn't had a rushing touchdown since Week 5. In fact, as our player card notes, over the past nine weeks, he has more fumbles than rushing touchdowns. The offensive line is banged-up, and, since their bye four weeks ago, the Bengals have allowed just one touchdown by an opposing running back.
Rashad Jennings, Jaguars: Mom always said if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all. So, um he's currently a starting running back in the NFL. There. That's the nicest thing I can say. Now, I should stop here, but Mom never had a column to fill. I get that it's a good matchup and, sure, he could score here, but Jennings has gotten plenty of chances this year, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. It's Week 13. Unless you're truly desperate, do you really want your postseason chances hinging on Rashad Jennings?
Michael Turner, Falcons: He has scored in three of the past four weeks. The one game he didn't? Against the Saints. Jacquizz Rodgers was on the field for more snaps than he was last week, and you know he's slow, right? But get this: Despite being listed as 51 pounds heavier, Michael Turner has averaged fewer yards per rush after contact (1.6) than Jacquizz Rodgers (2.1) this season. Ugh. Look, it all boils down to whether you think he'll score. I just hate touchdown-dependent running backs on passing offenses, but, hey, I've been mostly wrong on him all year, so if you have to start him, console yourself with that.
Fred Jackson, Bills: See Spiller, C.J. Jackson is a flex play at best this week with a healthy Spiller getting the majority of touches.
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: See Jennings, Rashad. It's a good matchup and we expect Jonathan Stewart to be out, but he still has Lamb (no?) Newton and Mike Tolbert to compete with at the goal line, and same theory as with Jennings. If I'm going down this week, it's not gonna be with DeAngelo "3.2 yards per carry" Williams.
Wide receivers I love in Week 13
Wes Welker, Patriots: Seems to always crush against Miami; the Dolphins send at least five rushers on 40.9 percent of dropbacks, which is the second-highest total in the league. Wes Welker leads the Patriots with 29 targets and 19 receptions when defenses send added pressure.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, Cowboys: "Is this where we check in for snorkeling? It's A-S-O-M-U-G-H-A. Asomugha." "Oh, yes sir, here you are. The boat leaves in 10 minutes. Here's your mask and flippers."
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: No doubt, a risk/reward guy this week, so understand you are playing with fire, but here's why I like him: Even with Aqib Talib in the past two games, the Patriots have allowed four completions deeper than 20 yards downfield (tied for third-most). And, for the year, they've allowed 25 receptions on throws that distance, which is six more than any other team in the NFL. This just in: You can throw deep on the Pats. Hartline not only is their deep threat but has at least five targets in 10 of 11 games this season, more than any other Dolphin.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars: Keep mentioning him, he keeps producing. Here's another good bar bet: The only wide receivers with more 30-plus yard plays than Cecil Shorts this season are Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green. The Bills have given up nine touchdowns on throws of that distance this season, which is tied for third-most in the league. (by the way, if you took the 11 quarters Chad Henne and Justin Blackmon have played together and extrapolated it over 16 games, Blackmon would have 122 catches, 2,661 yards and 17 touchdowns. Whoa: Crazy Crazy, indeed.
Brandon Stokley, Broncos: For those in deeper leagues, Stokley is an interesting play here. Two scores in his past three, and four in his past seven, and get this: The Bucs allow an NFL-worst 10.1 yards per attempt to slot receivers, and their opponents 75.5 completion percentage to slot wide receivers is also highest in the league.
If you're desperate: It's also definite risk/reward territory, but the thing I like about Pierre Garcon is he just needs one play to make it a big day. And the Redskins certainly are gonna try to get him that shot.
Because of the way we publish only the top-50 consensus receivers, it doesn't show up, but I ranked Mohamed Sanu in my own top 50, and, although four TDs in three games is unlikely to continue, it's a great matchup with San Diego and the Chargers will be very worried about A.J. Green.
I also ranked Davone Bess, who has at least 50 yards in four straight games and the Patriots don't struggle with just the deep ball, but also with the slot receivers. Patriots have allowed the second-most catches and yards to opposing slot receivers.
Speaking of the Pats,
Julian Edelman has three touchdowns in the four games he has played when either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez is out.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 13
Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers: Man, I hope I am wrong on this one. I have him going in a very important matchup and need a big game. Sadly, I don't think I am going to get it. As a member of the Chargers, he has played against the Broncos 11 times, and Champ Bailey was active in 10 of those games. In the 10 games Champ played, Jackson has caught at least five passes only once, has never reached 100 receiving yards and has just three touchdowns.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Brady. Quinn. Do I need to say more? Fine. Averaging 54.5 receiving yards per game at home, he hasn't scored since Week 4 and the Panthers allow the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: Sorry, Larry, it's not you, it's Lindley.
Mike Wallace, Steelers: If Ben Roethlisberger does not start, no Steeler should, except maybe Dwyer and the defense. If Ben does give it a go, Wallace becomes a flex play, but with single-digit fantasy points in five of his past six, not one I have a ton of confidence in.
Tight ends I love in Week 13
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots: Fair warning. I listed him here last week and he was, like, the one Patriot who did nothing (although he did have a TD called back and a very questionable offensive pass interference call).
Jason Witten, Cowboys: "I'm on the Lido deck playing shuffleboard. Why? Where you at?"
Brandon Pettigrew, Lions: Coming off an 8-for-74-yard game, I'm hoping this is a start of his getting more involved in the offense. You know I love Stafford this week, and the Colts have allowed four TDs by opposing tight ends in the past four games. Not a great option, but, as a low-end starter, you could do worse, especially in PPR leagues.
Martellus Bennett, Giants: Five for 79 yards the last time they played, and Washington gives up the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. And, against Washington's nonexistent pass rush, it's not as if he'll need to stay in and block or anything.
If you're desperate: The Titans keep saying they want to get Jared Cook more involved and they have a new offensive coordinator this week, so maybe they'll make good on the promise. Texans are banged-up on defense and have given up 16 catches for 171 yards and two TDs to opposing tight ends the past two games. Dallas Clark continues his return to fantasy relevance with 50 yards and/or a TD in three straight games. No team allows more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than the Broncos, and you know I think Champ will be all over Vincent Jackson. If I wanted to go super cheap in a daily salary-cap league, he'd be a guy I'd take a strong look at. If Kenny Phillips misses this game for the Giants, Logan Paulsen could have some success against New York. He had 76 yards against them the last time they played (and Phillips was out).
Tight ends I hate in Week 13
Heath Miller, Steelers: After a hot start, he has struggled to find the end zone; no touchdowns in the past four weeks. Not sure whether Ben is playing in this game, and, even if he does, will he be 100 percent? Ravens have allowed just one TD to an opposing tight end all year.
Antonio Gates, Chargers: How can you trust him at this point? It's not a horrible matchup, but, seriously, how can you trust him? Maybe he scores, maybe he has a one-point game the way he has in three of the past five and four of the past six.
Jermichael Finley, Packers: He got his shot. Now it's back to the hate list. You know, when your quarterback has to keep telling people there's no issue between you and him, there's probably an issue between the two of you.
Defenses I love in Week 13
New York Jets D/ST: Available in 43 percent of leagues, the Jets were actually a pretty solid fantasy defense for a while there, with three double-digit games in the five games before the New England debacle. Then they got destroyed. I believe that, after getting humiliated on a national stage, they'll come out strong at home, especially given that they get the Cardinals and Ryan Lindley. Lindley has five turnovers in the past two games, three of which have been returned for touchdowns. It's a bad offensive line in Arizona, and the Cardinals allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing defenses.
Dallas Cowboys D/ST: "Ship Hop Karaoke would like to welcome Nick Foles to the stage. Hi, Nick! What are you singing for us tonight?"
If you're desperate: Any time you get a defense going against Rivers and what they pretend is an offensive line in San Diego, good things tend to happen. This week, it's the Cincinnati Bengals' turn. As I mentioned earlier, the Buffalo Bills have been playing decent defense the past two weeks and, despite the recent success, Chad Henne is still Chad Henne.
Defenses I hate in Week 13
Green Bay Packers D/ST: Just too banged-up, and, with Adrian Peterson carrying the load, I don't see lots of opportunities for turnovers or even sacks.
St. Louis Rams D/ST: They were great last week and held their own the first time they played the Niners, but Kaepernick should have a much easier time of it this go-round, and this time he gets to start the game.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- sincerely hopes he'll see you next week, too. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.