Our NFL Insiders predict Week 13‘s biggest upsets, fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Vikings in Week 1 of 2018? Which team will emerge to take the NFC South?
What’s your top upset pick for Week 13?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Vikings over Falcons. Atlanta is playing its best football of the season, but so is Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum. In his past three games, Keenum has completed 71.1 percent of his passes and has tossed seven touchdowns. His Total QBR during this stretch? A lofty 93.7, and given Keenum’s recent run of high-level play along with that defense under Mike Zimmer, I see the Vikings holding off the Falcons in one of the most physical games we will watch all year.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Jets over Chiefs. Kansas City has lost five of six games and is coming off a loss to a struggling Buffalo team at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs have won only two more games than the Jets this season, but they are 4.5-point favorites at New York. That does not compute. The Chiefs have serious defensive issues and the offense has totaled four touchdowns over its past four outings. The Jets aren’t a very good team, but they’re playing better than the Chiefs. New York wins this one 23-22.
Domonique Foxworth, The Undefeated senior writer: 49ers over Bears. San Francisco’s offense-minded head coach, Kyle Shanahan, and unproven general manager, John Lynch, have been eager to play Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they acquired a month ago in a trade with the Patriots. With C.J. Beathard playing well, benching him didn’t seem like the best move. But Beathard got banged up at the end of last week’s game and Jimmy G looked good in his brief fill-in duty. Despite the fact that Beathard’s injuries don’t appear serious enough to keep him from starting, I think the 49ers will shelve him and Garoppolo will be exceptional in a win over the uninspired Bears.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Seahawks over Eagles. I picked against the Seahawks as a home favorite against Atlanta in Week 11, but I’ll take them as a home underdog against a Philly team that figures to stumble somewhere along the way. To win, Seattle needs to slow the Eagles’ ground game, making them one-dimensional. The Seahawks also probably need Mike Davis back in the lineup at halfback, which may or may not happen, depending on his health.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Vikings over Falcons. Minnesota has the pass rush and secondary to slow down the Falcons’ newly lethal offense. If anyone can lock down Julio Jones, it’s Xavier Rhodes — with safety Harrison Smith over the top as needed. (That will be a dream wide receiver-cornerback matchup, by the way.) The Vikings should be able to run on the Falcons’ defense, which has allowed 112.3 rushing yards per game during a three-game winning streak — a key part of winning a physical road game.
Who will be the Vikings’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of 2018?
Bowen: Teddy Bridgewater. Even with Case Keenum leading a first-place ballclub in the NFC North, there was talk of Bridgewater taking over as the No.1. Look for both Keenum and Sam Bradford to hit the market this offseason. And it could be Keenum cashing in if he continues to play good football while leading this team to the postseason dance.
Clay: Bridgewater. Minnesota is getting good quarterback play from Keenum but still seems to have the itch to start Bridgewater. That said, I think the former first-round pick ends up under center in Week 1 with both Bradford and Keenum competing for starting gigs elsewhere. Keenum very well could re-sign with Minnesota, but barring disaster, his strong play this season will probably earn him a clearer path to a starting job elsewhere.
Foxworth: Keenum is my guess. But I am not confident. Both Keenum and Bridgewater will be free agents in 2018, so it’ll be an interesting offseason in Minnesota. I’m betting that Keenum will be able to sustain this high level of production for the rest of the season, and I can’t imagine a franchise moving on from a proven option at the most important position.
Sando: Bridgewater is my tentative choice, but there are interesting dynamics to consider. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur appears to be in line for a head-coaching job. If Shurmur stays, Keenum could be more likely to return as the starter, unless Keenum falls off sharply down the stretch. Under that scenario, the team could draft its quarterback of the future while sticking with Keenum in the meantime. If Shurmur leaves, the team could be more likely to fall back on Bridgewater, with Keenum leaving in free agency.
Seifert: Bridgewater. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bridgewater finishes this season as their quarterback. Coach Mike Zimmer loves Bridgewater the way a father loves his son and is itching to get him back into the lineup. The Vikings are wisely riding Keenum’s strong play, but as long as Zimmer is the coach, it’s difficult to imagine them committing to him this offseason rather than reanointing Bridgewater.
Who’s your pick to be the biggest fantasy flop this weekend?
Bowen: Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals. The Bengals rookie is coming off his best day as a pro, rushing for 114 yards on 23 carries (5.0 yards per carry) and adding another 51 yards receiving in the Week 12 win over the Browns. With a matchup against a Steelers defense that ranks No. 9 in fantasy scoring versus opposing running backs (allowing an average of 22.0 points per game), however, look for Mixon to put up low-end RB2 numbers.
Clay: Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams. Watkins is coming off his best game with L.A., but the success figures to be short-lived. With Robert Woods sidelined against the Saints, Watkins handled a season-high nine targets and caught four for 82 yards and a score. That would be enough to vault him into the WR2 discussion most weeks Woods is sidelined, but with shadow coverage via Patrick Peterson on tap in Week 13, Watkins should be on benches. Peterson shadowed Watkins roughly half the time when these teams met in Week 7. Watkins produced one catch for 12 yards against Peterson and two catches for 30 yards away from his coverage.
Foxworth: Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. Cam’s running ability and red zone versatility normally makes him a pretty reliable fantasy player, with the possibility for huge games when the passing game clicks. But the Saints played him tough earlier in the year while holding him to his lowest fantasy total of the season. The weakness of the Saints’ defense is the injured secondary, but the Panthers’ offensive weakness is their passing game and receivers.
Sando: Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions. Stafford heads on the road against a Baltimore defense that ranks second in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks. He’s also dealing with an ankle injury suffered against Minnesota on Thanksgiving.
Seifert: Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions. Stafford has an admirable history of toughing out injuries, but his performance has usually suffered when he has. We saw that with a 2009 shoulder injury, a 2011 finger injury and another finger injury in 2016. A leg injury would seem to affect his throwing less than the shoulder or finger, but it still impacts mobility and will allow the Ravens to focus their pass rush on the pocket.
The NFC South is going to come down to the wire. Which team will win it and why?
Bowen: The Saints. The remaining schedule for New Orleans is pretty salty with a Week 13 game against the Panthers and two matchups with the Falcons. But I’m going with the physical, balanced offense under coach Sean Payton and a defense that can be ultra aggressive when cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley jump back into the mix.
Clay: The Saints. All three teams in this mix face a tough schedule over the final month or so of the season, which makes this tricky, but I still project New Orleans to hang on for the title at 12-4. The offense has been outstanding as usual, and their defense is much-improved. The Falcons are the “hot” team in the division right now, but they face arguably the league’s hardest schedule the rest of the season — Vikings, Saints (twice), at Buccaneers and Panthers. I believe that tough slate will cost them a playoff spot.
Foxworth: The Saints. Despite the Falcons’ offensive reputation, the Saints lead the the division in almost all major offensive statistical categories and they have best quarterback and coach in the NFC South. Their defense, which has been one of the worst in the league over the past few years, has improved and is continuing to get better.
Sando: The Panthers. Carolina is my choice in a tough race. I trust the Panthers’ defense more than the others. Cam Newton has cut down on turnovers, which is a big key. It won’t be easy and it might not be pretty. Every NFC South team ranks among the NFL’s top seven in hardest remaining schedules, mainly because these teams must play one another — Atlanta’s remaining schedule strength (.673) is the NFL’s toughest. I’ll take Carolina emerging on top at 11-5.
Seifert: The Falcons. They finally appear to have their offense in gear, having averaged 29 points per game over their current three-game winning streak. And most important, they still have four division games remaining, including two against the Saints and the regular-season finale at home against the Panthers. They’ve gotten hot at the right time and have a schedule that will allow them to maximize it.
Pick a fringe fantasy player who should be started in Week 13.
Bowen: Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins. Doctson has seen a pretty good run of volume over the past four games (23 targets) and he has caught 13 passes for 198 yards (15.23 yards per catch) with one score. Play the matchup and the big-play ability here with Doctson as a WR3/flex against a Cowboys defense ranked 28th in fantasy scoring versus opposing wide receivers (allowing an average of 37.5 points per game).
Clay: Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots. The do-it-all offensive weapon registered a season-high 15 touches and scored two touchdowns against Miami on Sunday. He has worked his way into a significant role in New England’s high-volume, high-scoring offense, averaging 11.0 touches per game in five outings since returning from injury. Same as in Week 12, Burkhead is a top-20 running back option against the struggling Bills defense.
Foxworth: Dontrelle Inman, WR, Bears. Chicago takes on the 49ers, who are 26th in the league in passing yards given up per game. And Inman is coming off of two games when he was targeted 10 and nine times, respectively. He is clearly Mitchell Trubisky‘s favorite target.
Sando: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Raiders. Oakland will be without Michael Crabtree. If the Raiders are also without Amari Cooper, that would leave Patterson as one of the last men standing among Oakland’s receivers. Patterson caught three passes for 72 yards against Denver without being a big part of the game plan ahead of time. Oakland will presumably feature him more this week against the Giants.
Seifert: Alex Collins, RB, Ravens. Baltimore will face a Detroit run defense that has been gashed in recent weeks. Since losing defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in Week 5, the Lions have allowed 150 rushing yards per game. In their past three games, opponents have hit them up for 186.3 per game. Collins will have a chance to feast.