It's Week 13 of the 2012 fantasy football season, and that makes this the most important week of the year in many fantasy leagues, as the playoff aspirations of many squads will come down to whether or not they can pull out a win this week.
As quarterback Drew Brees has already demonstrated this week with his zero-touchdown, five-interception face-plant, the last thing that fantasy owners can afford is for one of their star players to lay an egg this week, so before you plug these players into your starting lineup, it's worth at least considering that their bust potential is much higher than normal.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (at CHI)
After rushing for a career-high 1,204 yards last season Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was rewarded by the team with a four-year, $31 million contract extension, but any fears that that fat payday may soften Lynch's bruising running style appear to have been unfounded.
The sixth-year veteran ranks third in the National Football League with 1,051 rushing yards and is averaging a career-best 4.5 yards per carry, and as linebacker Brian Urlacher told Jeff Dickerson of ESPN, Urlacher's well aware that limiting Lynch will be the key to a win on Sunday when the Chicago Bears host the Seahawks.
"Every week we face a good back, whether it's Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, and [Arian Foster]," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "[Lynch is] a hard running back to tackle. He likes to get downhill, likes to make guys miss. [He's got] great speed so it's another big challenge for us."
With that said, the Bears have been stout against the run this year, ranking eighth in run defense while allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs, and the Miami Dolphins provided Chicago with a blueprint of sorts after limiting Lynch to 46 yards on 19 carries a week ago.
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at DEN)
With four wins in their past five games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have thrust themselves back into the thick of the playoff race in the NFC, and a considerable amount of the credit for their recent resurgence belongs to their starting quarterback.
Over the past four weeks fourth-year veteran signal-caller Josh Freeman has averaged just under 250 passing yards a game with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions, and ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski sees a superstar in the making when watching tape of Freeman according to his colleague Pat Yasinkas.
"Josh Freeman is playing phenomenal football," Jaworski said. "I thought last year he really struggled with his accuracy. As their season wore on and their record got worse, disinterest might be the wrong word, but there just didn't seem to be a fire in that Bucs offense. That usually reflects upon the quarterback, and I thought Josh really struggled last season. Two years ago I thought he was really coming on and had the potential to be a superstar. I'm seeing that superstar potential now come to the forefront."
However, Freeman faltered a bit in last week's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since Week 1, and that statistical mini-slump is likely to continue this week in an unfavorable fantasy matchup with the Denver Broncos.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens (vs. PIT)
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith is quickly developing into one of the most dangerous vertical threats in the NFL, but as the Ravens prepare for one of their most important games of the season, fantasy owners would be well served to consider alternative options.
The second-year pro is averaging nearly 18 yards a catch and has already matched his seven touchdown catches from a year ago, but as Smith recently told Edward Lee of The Baltimore Sun, he realizes that he needs to step up his game after the Pittsburgh Steelers held him in check in their first meeting this season.
"They made it a little hard with the looks that they were giving. It's kind of scary as a quarterback when you see someone buzzing underneath and it's hard for him in terms of throws. There was times when I was open, but he has to overthrow it rather than throw it underneath out of fear that it's going to be picked off. They did a great job. You have to give credit when it's due. For us, we just have to take advantage when the opportunities present themselves and do things a little differently and try to get on the same page."
Smith had only one catch for seven yards in that Week 11 meeting, and while he may well do better than that this time around, the fact remains that no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to wide receivers this season than the Steelers.