NFL

5 NFL Players to Watch in Week 13

on

Could this finally be the week we start to make sense of the playoff picture?

Several teams have legitimate chances to announce themselves as contenders.

In the NFC, the New York Giants carry a six-game winning streak into Pittsburgh, albeit against the soft portion of the schedule. Detroit can essentially build a two-game gap in the North. Suddenly surging Tampa Bay could pull even with Atlanta if all goes well. And Washington can effectively bury the Arizona Cardinals.

As for the AFC, Miami also looks to run its streak to seven straight wins with a trip to Baltimore. The Houston Texans can maintain a one-game lead in the South with a victory at Lambeau. And after locking down its first winning season since 2002, the Raiders host the playoff-hungry Buffalo Bills, the only team not to crack the postseason field in the new millennium.

There’s so much to watch in Week 13 that it’s hard to narrow down to only five players, but here are some of the guys who look to shine.

Vernon Davis, TE, Redskins

No team in football, save for New England, utilizes its tight ends more than Washington. But with Jordan Reed sidelined on Sunday due to a shoulder injury, it’ll be up to the veteran Davis to pick up the slack.

Now 32 years old, the former 49er is enjoying a career renaissance in the nation’s capital – catching 31 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns. Still one of the game’s most dangerous threats up the seam, Davis ranks third among all NFL tight ends in yards per catch (14.5).

Arizona’s defense may not be as dominant as it has been in recent seasons, but the Cardinals have shut out opposing tight ends through 11 games. According to ESPN fantasy football stats, all 31 other teams have surrendered at least two scores to tight ends.

The Cardinals have also given up a league-low 282 yards to tight ends on just 32 receptions.

Justin Houston, LB, Chiefs

In just his second game back from offseason ACL surgery, Houston turned in one of the season’s most dominant defensive halves. Houston sacked Trevor Siemian three times, including a sack-fumble which resulted in a safety, and forced Broncos coach Gary Kubiak to bench starting right tackle Ty Sambrailo.

Not to mention, Houston added solid run defense in the second half and finished with a team-high 10 tackles.

But can Houston rattle Matt Ryan and help Kansas City slow down the league’s highest-scoring offense?

Houston will face a much stiffer test against one of the league’s best right tackles, Ryan Schraeder.

“It’s going to be a good matchup,” Schraeder told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.” He’s a really fast guy. He’s got good power. He’s got multiple moves and he’ll kind of keep you on your toes. I have to really study this week to figure out his tendencies, that way we can get after him.”

Malik Jackson, DT, Jaguars

The Jaguars gave Jackson at least 42 million reasons to depart Denver on the opening day of free agency, signing him to a six-year deal worth a total of $85.5 million ($42 million guaranteed). Fresh off his best performance of the season, a two-sack effort in Buffalo, Jackson welcomes his former team to town.

After a slow start and less-than-stellar effort throughout the opening month, Jackson’s now ranked a respectable 24th among interior defensive linemen by Pro Football Focus. Consequently, the Broncos have dropped from third against to run to 27th.

The Broncos have a very pedestrian offensive line, as depicted by the woes against the Chiefs. They’ll also turn to first-round pick Paxton Lynch in place of the injured Siemian.

Lynch, who grew up about 2 hours southwest of Jacksonville, withstood seven sacks in his first career start against Atlanta on Oct. 9. The Jags will need Jackson to play with an edge if they have any shot at an upset, and snapping a six-game losing streak.

“That’s the biggest thing I have to battle with, proving that I’m worth more than what they offered me and they shouldn’t have let me go,” Jackson told reporters Wednesday on a conference call. “That’s my whole premise going out there and letting them know I’m a problem and you let this problem go so now you have to deal with me.”

Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants

Giants quarterback Eli Manning made it a point to apologize to the rookie from Oklahoma after not targeting him once in last week’s 27-13 win at Cleveland.

It certainly won’t happen again this week at Pittsburgh, particularly with Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown drawing the attention of opposing secondaries.

Prior to Sunday’s shutout, Shepard received at least six targets in his previous nine games, including a three-game touchdown streak. However, he’s only topped the 100-yard mark once, against New Orleans in Week 2.

Surprisingly, the Steelers have allowed only six touchdowns to opposing wide receivers. That’s not good news for a Giants offense almost entirely dependent on slinging the rock.

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan expects Shepard to matchup with Steelers slot specialist Randall Gay, whose 83.9 PFF coverage grade ranks among the best in the game.

Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens

Wallace undoubtedly dropped the week’s best quote, speaking about his two-year tenure with Sunday’s opponent, the Miami Dolphins.

“I have no regrets,” Wallace told the Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley. “They gave me a lot of money in two years. I have no grudge, no nothing against those guys. It’s all love on my end. My life is a lot better because of those guys.”

A terrible fit in Joe Philbin’s dink-and-dunk offense at the time, Wallace averaged 12.8 yards per reception for Miami. Wallace gained a reputation as one of the league’s best deep threats in Pittsburgh, averaging at least 16.6 yards per reception in each of his first three seasons.

But the eight-year veteran has turned things around in Baltimore with 51 catches for 792 yards and four scores. He’s proven to be more versatile with experience, catching 37 balls within 1-10 yards of the line of scrimmage and doing most of his damage in three-wide sets.

Miami ranks ninth in the league against the pass (230 yards per game) and seventh-best in opposing passer rating (85.6).

Wallace burned the Steelers for a 95-yard touchdown four weeks ago. Can he do the same to another former employer?


About Chris Boyle