Instant Impressions: Week 13
• Matt Forte took a brutal shot from Derrick Johnson early in The Bears' loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs, and suffered what looked like a catastrophic knee injury. Early signals out of Chicago are that perhaps the damage isn't as bad as it looked, though we could have more definitive word as soon as Monday afternoon. Reporters spotted Forte walking in the locker room without crutches, and ESPNChicago.com reports that the damage is to Forte's MCL and will cause him to miss between two and four games. This obviously comes at the worst possible time for fantasy owners, as we approach the playoffs in standard ESPN.com leagues. Marion Barber will be the must-add player off the waiver wire this week, but Barber hasn't held up well as a full-time back since '07, and I'm not hopeful that the Caleb Hanie-led Bears offense is ready to go on a roll behind Barber. Forte owners must add Barber, but maintain moderate expectations. Kahlil Bell will likely be Barber's backup.
• Andre Johnson caught one deep pass from T.J. Yates on Sunday; it was a well-thrown ball, in that it gave AJ a chance to be his super-freak self and make the bomb-catch, but let's not buy into the hype that Yates and Johnson had established some kind of Vulcan mind-meld, y'know? That play went for 50 of AJ's 97 yards; his other three catches were of the short-ish variety. Of course, all this might be moot because on his final grab, Johnson pulled up lame with a left hamstring injury (he had surgery on his right hamstring earlier this season). He'll have an MRI on Monday, but the initial thought is that if the damage was bad enough to force him to pull up and miss the rest of Sunday's game, it's going to be bad enough to keep him out of action at least next week. And unfortunately during Johnson's six-game absence, no Houston Texans receiver stepped forward as a decent fantasy replacement, not Kevin Walter, not Jacoby Jones, not Owen Daniels. What a mess.
• Good news from the Shanahan front: He stuck to his Roy Helu word and gave his rookie rusher a full accompaniment of touches. Helu had all 23 of the Washington Redskins' carries, plus had four catches. Evan Royster had one catch, and Ryan Torain didn't touch the ball from scrimmage for a second consecutive week. It's going to be a dangerous game to keep trusting Shanny in your fantasy playoffs, but at least now you have back-to-back weeks of high usage for Helu to fall back on.
• Alas, the news wasn't so good from the land of Belichick. BenJarvus Green-Ellis looked like he had a dream matchup versus the Indianapolis Colts but wound up with only six carries for 14 yards (fortunately he did find the end zone) because the New England Patriots were winning by a bunch and decided not to give BJGE a single snap in the second half. (Stevan Ridley took over.) So between Shanny and Belichick's perpetual communal battle between logical and madcap RB decisions, the score in Week 13 was 1-1.
• In ESPN.com's Week 13 ranks, I was the only ranker to put Hakeem Nicks over Victor Cruz, and the only ranker to put Dez Bryant ahead of Laurent Robinson. I made enough bad calls to float a battleship (slotting DeAngelo Williams above Jonathan Stewart was certainly one of 'em!), but those two assessments proved accurate, as Nicks and Bryant asserted their dominance Sunday. Some would proclaim me too stubborn and unwilling to bend from my initial opinions about players. But it's such a dangerous game to get carried away by surprising ancillary receivers. The moment we notice that Cruz and Robinson have been dominant, opposing defenses pay attention, too. And instead of rolling coverage away from the players they fear most (Nicks and Bryant), they play it a bit more straight up, and the more talented players flex their muscles. Nicks scored 20 fantasy points Sunday and Bryant scored 14; Cruz had 11 (but still had an impressive 119 receiving yards) and Robinson (who banged up his shoulder but returned to the game) had 7.
• Give C.J. Spiller and Toby Gerhart credit for fine Week 13 efforts while replacing two of the best RBs of '11. I haven't watched the Buffalo Bills/Tennessee Titans game tape yet, but every time I looked up in ESPN's War Room, Spiller was hitting a hole decisively or getting around the edge with aplomb. He produced an explosive early-game 35-yard TD run and overall had 102 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches. He's ensconced as a flex option. Gerhart didn't make anyone forget about Adrian Peterson on Sunday, but he did punish a Denver Broncos tackler or two, plus caught an unexpected eight passes. Gerhart has generated 11 and 13 fantasy points the past two weeks against the Falcons and Broncos, two of the toughest teams to run against over the past six games or so. If AP can't go in Week 14, Gerhart will have an easier matchup against the Detroit Lions, and will also be worth using as a flex. At the very least, if you're a Peterson owner entering the playoffs and haven't handcuffed him to Gerhart, shame on you.
• Rob Gronkowski. Wow. For a moment, we believed he had set the single-season record for receiving TDs by a tight end Sunday, when he found the end zone versus the Colts for the third time, but official scorers ruled that this third TD was just barely a lateral from Tom Brady, and thus counted as a running score. Gronk is up to 13 receiving TDs (and 14 overall) for the season, which ties him with Antonio Gates in '04 and Vernon Davis in '09 for the most in a single season by a TE. Let's just say that record is going to fall, and soon.
• James Starks aggravated his ankle injury early in Sunday afternoon's tilt versus the New York Giants, and had to be carted to the locker room. He produced 5 yards on three carries before the pain came for the third straight game, and he didn't return. In his absence, a plodding Ryan Grant had 29 yards on 13 carries, while Brandon Saine had 16 yards on six carries. And of course, the Green Bay Packers' passing game dominated the fantasy ledger. We'll know more about Starks soon, presumably, but by now hopefully fantasy owners have stopped relying on the Packers' running game altogether.
• Kevin Smith also re-aggravated an ankle problem, and he didn't return to the Detroit Lions' dispiriting Sunday night loss to the New Orleans Saints. Smith had produced well in the passing game (six grabs, 46 yards) to that point, though he hadn't looked shifty in the running game, presumably because of the bad ankle. In Smith's absence, the pedestrian Maurice Morris was awful as a rusher -- 28 yards on 12 carries -- though he did score near the end of the third quarter on a dump-off red zone pass. As the Lions' season slowly spirals down the commode, Smith would seem unlikely to play in Week 14 versus the Vikings. You won't want to use any of the Lions' RBs in that game.
• Peyton Hillis made one big play versus the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, a 52-yard catch-and-run on a completely blown coverage (which saw Hillis get run down from behind before he could score). Otherwise, he was a steaming pile of mediocrity (12 carries, 45 yards), plus was reportedly injured in the game, as he didn't have another touch after the 6:49 mark of the third quarter, while Chris Ogbonnaya took over (Montario Hardesty and his perennially injured calf played three downs Sunday and didn't have a touch from scrimmage). Browns beat reporters said Hillis wasn't in the locker room after the team's loss, adding to speculation that Hillis got hurt. Heading into a Thursday game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, he looks questionable at best, and we don't yet know whether Hardesty can take his place.
• What a genius Todd Haley is. Once again, he went with Tyler Palko as his starter, only to watch the vagabond lefty go 4-of-5 for 27 yards and two sacks in the first quarter. (It looked worse than it sounds.) Finally realizing the error of his ways, Haley began the second quarter with Kyle Orton under center, only to see Orton bang his throwing hand on a defender's helmet, dislocating the forefinger. Re-enter Palko. Yes, the Chiefs upset the Bears behind Palko, but realize that his only offense came on a completed Hail Mary (a deflection that Dexter McCluster caught) at halftime. Had 'em all the time, Haley! We don't know yet whether Orton's injury will keep him out longer term, but until someone else is under center, Dwayne Bowe needs to be out of your lineup.
• LeGarrette Blount's ridiculous season continues. (And I don't mean ridiculous in a good way.) Blount, who was my No. 19 RB this summer -- I was mocked and reviled in some quarters for putting him that low -- has produced two 19-point, a 16-point and an 11-point fantasy day this season. He has also produced five days of seven fantasy points or fewer, and missed two games with a knee injury. (He currently sits 28th in fantasy points among RBs.) And while Ray Rice and Chris Johnson were able to take advantage of ultra-tasty matchups Sunday, Blount racked up 19 rushing yards on 11 carries versus a Carolina Panthers run D that had allowed an average of 27 fantasy points to opposing rushers over the past five weeks. Seriously. I was always lower on Blount than most folks, and I have to imagine most of his fantasy owners are flat-out done with him by now.
• Don't look now, but Dan Orlovsky is better than Curtis Painter. The Colts are still winless, and much of his Week 13 statistical goodness came during a fruitless garbage-time attempt to come back against the Patriots (who were winning 31-3 before pulling the air brakes), but nevertheless Orlovsky passed for 353 yards Sunday. Garbage yards count, too. No, you're not adding the former UConn QB, but seeing Pierre Garcon score twice and account for 150 yards gave me pause. It would obviously be ridiculously tough to use Garcon or Reggie Wayne in a fantasy playoff game. But at least the thought is allowed to enter your mind.
• Tim Tebow went 10-of-15 for 202 yards, two TDs and zero picks (he did lose a fumble), which qualifies as an amazing passing day for him. Because he only carried it four times for 13 yards, Tebow didn't have a huge fantasy game, but once again he managed to slot right in there as an above-average fantasy QB; he has now had between 15 and 23 fantasy points in all but one of his eight games this year. (The average fantasy QB nets just over 14 fantasy points per week in a standard ESPN.com scoring format.) You never know when a negative blow-up game is looming for such a pass-challenged QB, but against the Vikings' laughable Cover 2 on Sunday, Tebow looked respectable, and he's obviously going to be worth starting most weeks if you've ridden him this far. Alas, Eric Decker was invisible (two catches, 25 yards) Sunday, and Demaryius Thomas took on a starring role, making play after play, rumbling over people after the catch and notching 144 yards on four catches with two TDs. If anything, this confuses the Broncos WR situation, as we can't definitively claim that Decker will benefit if and when Tebow looks competent as a passer. Best to stay away from these WRs and just stay invested in Timmy T.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
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