The Shadow Knows Week 13

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


At 6-5, the Houston Texans are one of more surprising teams in the NFL. The engine of that surprise has been rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has been setting records left and right and is on pace to become the first rookie in league history to throw for 5,000 yards. And of late, the preferred target for that first-year phenomenon has been another rookie.
The Tank has been rolling.

Over the past month, only CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys and Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers have more PPR fantasy points than Nathaniel Dell. In each of the past four games, Dell has caught at least five passes, scored a touchdown and logged at least 16 PPR points. Andre Johnson is unquestionably the greatest receiver in Texans history, and he told Michael Shapiro of the Houston Chronicle that he’s been nothing but impressed by the third-round pick who played collegiately in Houston as well.

"It's just like, damn, where is this kid from?" Johnson said. "The creativity in the route running and the separation he creates is different. It's definitely different the way he gets in and out of routes. Whoever taught him, has done a great job with him. I can only see him getting better and better as he learns and as he grows. I'm very excited for the kid."

Dell has been fantastic this week, but he’s going to have to earn it this week. Sunday at NRG Stadium, he and the Texans face the surging Broncos, and that means a coverage date with arguably the NFL’s best cornerback in Patrick Surtain II. The days of the Broncos allowing 70 points to the Miami Dolphins are long gone—over the last month, Surtain and the Broncos are dead last in the league in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers.

It’s going to be quite the showdown—but it isn’t the only one brewing in this all-important week for fantasy managers clinging to fading postseason aspirations.


Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets (A.J. Terrell vs. Garrett Wilson)

A 2023 season that was supposed to be filled with hope and excitement for the long-suffering fans of the New York Jets has devolved into yet another nightmarish year of offensive ineptitude. The Jets are a bumbling mess offensively right now, and second-year wide receiver and reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson admitted that he’s as unhappy as the fans with what the team’s doing (or not doing) on the field.

“As far as the way we’ve been playing, there’s losing and then there’s losing like we’ve lost is how we feel,” Wilson said during his weekly spot on the “Bart & Hahn Show” on ESPN New York. “We’ve got to fix that all around. As far as the product we put on the field and the way we’ve gone down the last five, six weeks, whatever it’s been, I’m not OK with it. I know a lot of guys feel the same.”

A garbage-time touchdown salvaged a decent stat line for Wilson last week, but the reality is this—being covered by A.J. Terrell (a talented young cornerback who has struggled with consistency in his fourth season) isn’t Wilson’s biggest problem. The problem is that Tim freaking Boyle is starting under center for New York, because giving Trevor Siemian a chance would make too much sense. Wilson’s fantasy managers have three things to hope for right now—target share, luck and garbage time.



Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers (Marquise Brown vs. Joey Porter Jr.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most surprising 7-4 team in recent memory, largely because they have been out-gained in 10 of 11 games. Pittsburgh’s defense has carried the team, and rookie corner Joey Porter Jr. has emerged as a key part of that defense. In fact, as ESPN’s Mike Clay wrote, Porter has been given “shadow” detail with regularity in recent weeks.

“Porter has shadowed DeAndre Hopkins, Amari Cooper and Ja'Marr Chase over the past four weeks,” he said. “The rookie shadowed the trio on a combined 83 of their 105 routes in the three games, including 76 of 82 perimeter routes and seven of 23 in the slot. Hopkins was held to a 4-60-0 receiving line on 11 targets in the game, whereas Cooper posted a 4-34-0 line on nine targets and Chase managed a 4-81-0 showing on four targets. Porter showed fairly well, though it's worth noting that the quarterback play (Will Levis, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Jake Browning) certainly factored into the stat lines.”

That quarterback asterisk can’t be ignored, but neither can the fact that Brown’s injured foot appears to be an issue—the 26-year-old has one game with double-digit PPR points over the past month (last week’s 6/88/0 line against the Rams). The Steelers are middle-of-pack overall in fantasy points per game allowed to wideouts, but with Porter likely on him most of the game, enthusiasm with Brown needs to be tempered in Week 13.


Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Rams (Martin Emerson vs. Puka Nacua)

The Cleveland Browns have been absolutely savaged by injuries on both sides of the ball all season—among them the absence of top cornerback Denzel Ward for a chunk of the season. That the Browns secondary hasn’t missed a beat speaks to the fact that Ward might not even be the Browns’ best cornerback anymore. It might just be second-year pro Martin Emerson, who told reporters he hasn’t tried to do anything but his job.

"Man, just doing my job honestly," Emerson said. "I don't really want to try to do anything different, just doing my job. Don't try to find a play, just let the plays come to me and make my plays that come to me.”

Emerson has been fantastic in coverage, allowing just 43.5 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed with an outstanding passer rating against of 50.3. The Browns lead the league in total defense and passing defense and only the New York Jets have given up fewer fantasy points per game to wide receivers. Meanwhile, after a ridiculous start to his NFL career, Nacua has 12 catches for 129 yards and a score over his last three games combined.

Nacua was a blast in September. He could end seasons in December.


San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (Brandon Aiyuk vs. Darius Slay)


The biggest game of Week 13 undoubtedly takes place in Philadelphia, where the Eagles and 49ers will meet in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game blowout. There’s been more than a little chirping back-and-forth between the teams since that game, including Niners wideout Deebo Samuel calling Eagles corner James Bradberry “trash.” But while talking to reporters, Aiyuk struck a more diplomatic tone about this week’s showdown.

"We definitely know what happened last season; a lot of words going back and forth," Aiyuk said. "But despite that, we got another opportunity [and] they have another opportunity to play football. I think most of the guys are excited for that."
Frankly, while Samuel may have been premature, he wasn’t wrong—at least where 2023 is concerned. Bradberry has struggled mightily this season, and while “Big Play” Slay has been better, the Eagles lead the NFL in fantasy points per game surrendered to wide receivers. Philly also played over 90 defensive snaps last week in an overtime win over Buffalo, while the Niners got a mini-bye after playing om Thanksgiving.

If the Niners win this game (and they may well do just that), Aiyuk will likely play a huge part in the victory.


Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers (L’Jarius Sneed vs. Christian Watson)


Not that long ago, the Packers appeared to be dead in the water. But the Pack has won three of four after downing the Lions on Thanksgiving, and Green Bay wideout Christian Watson had arguably his best game of the season in that game—five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. However, Derek Tate of Pro Football Network has his doubts about whether the good times will continue Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champions.

“Fantasy managers who kept rolling Packers WR Christian Watson into their starting lineup were finally rewarded with a big five-reception, 94-yard, and one-touchdown performance against the Lions in Week 12,” he said. “While Watson’s best performance of the 2023 season certainly is encouraging, I would caution inserting him into your fantasy lineup against the Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City’s CB duo of L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie have given some of the league’s best wideouts issues for the majority of the season, which has me wanting to go in another direction in Week 13.”

The Kansas City defense has had as much to do with the Chiefs’ success in 2023 as Patrick Mahomes and the offense has—which should be deeply concerning for their opponents. Through 12 weeks, the Chiefs have allowed the ninth-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers, and while Jordan Love has looked better of late, the best thing going for fantasy managers here may be the fact that Green Bay could have to go pass-heavy out of necessity.