A week ago in this space, the benchmark to guarantee inclusion in the Best Performances of the Week was 20 fantasy points. That ensured 11 players made the list, and the rest was filled out with the next tier of performers. In Week 12, no player scored more than 29 fantasy points.
In Week 13 (so far), four have. It was a much higher-scoring week overall, with 19 fantasy performers topping 20 points, including a defense and a kicker. So no, there's no threshold to guarantee inclusion for Week 13; there will be some 20-pointers who don't make the cut and -- hello, tight ends -- some non-20 guys who do sneak in there.
Below, we look at the biggest performers of the week and consider which ones are sustainable:
Best quarterbacks in Week 13
Peyton Manning, DEN (403 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 32 fantasy points)
After looking almost human two weeks in a row -- 14 fantasy points in Week 11, 12 in Week 12 -- Manning reminded the NFL that he is a robot from some weird football-land with Sunday's performance, his sixth game of the season with four or more touchdown passes. Four of Manning's touchdown passes went to wide receiver Eric Decker (more on that later), with a fifth going to running back Knowshon Moreno. Manning had his highest yards-per-attempt average of the season (11.51) Sunday and -- surprisingly, considering the two interceptions -- his highest Total QBR (97.2), for those who put stock in the ESPN stat.
Next game: The Broncos host the Tennessee Titans in Week 14. The Titans have held opposing quarterbacks to the fifth-lowest fantasy points per game in the league so far this season; they haven't allowed more than 19 fantasy points to a quarterback yet this season. Still, though, it's Peyton Manning; there's a good chance that trend ends.
Cam Newton, CAR (263 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 68 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 26 fantasy points)
Newton and Manning are the only two quarterbacks in the league with five games of 26 or more fantasy points, with both turning the trick Sunday. Newton's big performance included two interceptions, but his rushing abilities kept his overall fantasy line strong. Newton led the Panthers in rushing yards for the fourth time on the season, and the third straight game; the return of running back Jonathan Stewart from injury has created such a logjam among the team's running backs that Newton is probably the odds-on favorite to lead them in rushing yards the rest of the way, as well. Newton will certainly have his awful games (he's scored six or fewer fantasy points twice), but overall he's an easy top-tier quarterback.
Next game: Newton gets a big test coming up, as the Panthers travel to New Orleans for their first of two games against the Saints in a three-week span. The Saints have been the third-best team against opposing quarterbacks in fantasy so far this season, and are a strong home-field team. If Newton can perform there, he really can do it anywhere.
Nick Foles, PHI (237 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 23 fantasy points)
Eventually, Foles is going to throw an interception, right? He didn't find some secret potion in the offseason that would ward them off? Because this has been ridiculous so far. Foles' line for the season now sits at 1,791 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, for good measure, two rushing touchdowns and 145 rushing yards. In starts where he's stayed healthy (i.e., not the Dallas game in Week 7), Foles has scored 15 or more fantasy points in all of them, and 21 or more in all but one. It's hard to imagine he's this good, but it's also hard to come up with a reason why it won't continue.
Next game: The Cardinals on Sunday were the last really good defense Foles and the Eagles will face this season. Next Sunday, they take on the Detroit Lions, which should bode well for Foles' continued production. Eventually, he will throw an interception, but regardless, he's plenty valuable.
Josh McCown, CHI (355 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 22 fantasy points)
McCown's 352 passing yards a week ago were his highest since a two-week stretch in 2005; now his 355 Sunday hold that mark. The 34-year-old quarterback has found himself with a late-career renaissance in Chicago, and with every good game he has, the chances of him having a starting job in 2014 increase. Already, isn't McCown better than any quarterback in Jacksonville, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston? Maybe the Jets, maybe the Bills? Sure, a lot of that is more an indictment on the NFL quarterback situation than it is praise for McCown, but still, his continued success could help to usher Jay Cutler out the door in Chicago. With Alshon Jeffery looking increasingly like a No. 1 wide receiver, the quarterback job in Chicago is a premium job without question.
Next game: Of course, the flip-side of this argument is that Cutler could be back as soon as next Sunday, and if the team goes back to him then, as expected -- it could be a signal of Chicago's long-term intentions. Regardless, some Bears quarterback faces a struggling Dallas Cowboys pass defense Sunday, and whichever quarterback it is -- Cutler or McCown -- stands to have a big game.
Best running backs in Week 13
Ben Tate, HOU (102 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns, 28 fantasy points)
A week after a hideous game -- seven rushes for 1 yard, with only his 26 receiving yards salvaging anything -- Tate bounced back in a huge way Sunday, His 102 rushing yards were his most since Week 8 of 2011, and his three scores were as many as he'd had in the last two seasons combined. His touchdowns came in the first, second and fourth quarters, and backup running back Dennis Johnson got only three carries in the game. In short, the Texans stuck with their No. 1 despite his awful game. And after that performance, there's no reason to think it won't continue.
Next game: Tate would be hard-pressed to have a more confusing upcoming matchup next Sunday. The Texans face the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time in three weeks, and the Jags allow 18.3 fantasy points a game to running backs, the eighth-worst mark in the league. On the other hand, it's the same Jaguars team that held Tate to his worthless game a week ago. Best bet is that the bad performance was the fluke, and Tate has a strong game in Week 14.
DeMarco Murray, DAL (63 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, 39 receiving yards, 27 fantasy points)
Murray had his first huge game since Week 3 on Thanksgiving, with three different rushing touchdowns of less than 10 yards. His 102 yards from scrimmage marked his fourth time topping 100 this season, but only his second since he had 203 against St. Louis in Week 3. Murray is always and forever a threat to get injured, but as long as he's healthy, he is good for double-digit fantasy points; he's averaging 12.8 per start this season, which is a top-10 rate.
Next game: Murray stands to be one of the best starts at his position next week, as the Cowboys travel to Chicago to face a Bears defense that gave up more than 200 yards to Adrian Peterson Sunday, that allowed big production to both Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham the week before, that has allowed 30 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs three times in its last six games.
Adrian Peterson, MIN (211 rushing yards, 21 fantasy points)
Peterson managed to top 20 fantasy points with no receiving yards and no touchdowns, which is even more testament to the Swiss cheese that is the Bears' run defense. His 35 carries were the second-most for a running back all season -- behind only Knowhson Moreno's 37 against the Patriots a week ago -- and his 6.0 yards per carry Sunday was his highest average since Week 6. Peterson isn't going to be breaking the rushing record this year, or even getting very close, but he's still on pace for more than 1,600 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. To steal a line, 2013 Adrian Peterson isn't the best running back ever, but he is the best running back in 2013.
Next game: Peterson could hardly have a bigger change in matchup from Week 13 to 14, as he moved from the porous Bears' defense to the slam-shut Ravens' unit next week. The Ravens are the third-best run defense in the game. Peterson is still an obvious must-start, but expecting 211 rushing yards again, or anything close, would be pretty foolish.
Best wide receivers in Week 13
Eric Decker, DEN (174 yards, 4 touchdowns, 41 fantasy points)
Decker had fallen behind his Broncos brethren this season, and he entered Week 13 with only three touchdowns on the season. That is a distant memory now, of course, as Decker caught four of Peyton Manning's five touchdown passes. In the aftermath of the performance, there was a lot of noise on Twitter from fantasy owners grumbling about having benched Decker. On the one hand, that's an understandable thought, as Decker hadn't scored since Week 7 and was coming off a one-catch, 5-yard outing in Week 12. On the other hand, Decker still ranked as fantasy's No. 21 wide receiver, despite his recent struggles, and Manning is famous for his ability to highlight different receivers in different games; there was every reason to think Decker would have a big game sooner rather than later.
Next game: While no team is ever likely to shut down all the Broncos' receivers, their Week 14 opponent -- the Tennessee Titans -- are better against opposing wide receivers than any other team in the NFL. Also, that benefit of having Manning as your quarterback -- you know he'll get to you eventually -- is also a bit of a curse, as he'll always move on again. Decker still needs to be a starter in most every league, but expect a big dropoff from his career game.
Josh Gordon, CLE (261 yards, 2 touchdowns, 38 fantasy points)
Owning Gordon lately has been about as much fun as fantasy owners could legitimately ask for -- he's scored 85 fantasy points in his last three games combined, with his 125 yards and a touchdown game in Week 11 far and away his worst outing of the three. Gordon became the first wide receiver to ever go for 200 or more yards in consecutive weeks Sunday, and his 16.6 fantasy points per game started (accounting for his two missed games due to suspension) is the best average among wide receivers in the league -- even above Calvin Johnson. He's an obvious WR1 for the rest of this season and going into next.
Next game: It's getting hard to grade Gordon down for anything, but regardless, it's impossible to project this sort of performance to continue when the Browns travel to New England to take on the Patriots next week. He's still an every week must-start, but don't expect many more games like his last two weeks.
Alshon Jeffery, CHI (249 yards, 2 touchdowns, 36 fantasy points)
Decker, Gordon, and Jeffery each scored 36 or more fantasy points; between those three and Brian Hartline -- 18 fantasy points -- there is only Dez Bryant and his 21 points on the Week 13 wide receiver leaderboard. The top three receivers set themselves significantly ahead of the rest of the pack. Jeffery set a career high in receptions, yards, and touchdowns Sunday, with his second 200-yard game of the season and his fifth of 100 or more. After his rookie season was interrupted with injuries last year, Jeffery has delivered on his promise and then some this year, and his Sunday performance is going to have him easily inside the top 10 at the position.
Next game: Jeffery has played himself from fantasy afterthought status early in the season into a must-start now, and with the Bears playing a Cowboys' defense that has allowed some huge wide receiver performances this season, there's no reason to think Jeffery is anywhere near done. Yes, 249 yards and 36 fantasy points is hard to plan on, but 100 yards a game is totally within his abilities.
Best tight ends in Week 13
Zach Ertz, PHI (68 yards, 2 touchdowns, 18 fantasy points)
The Arizona Cardinals are the sixth-best team against fantasy wide receivers; they are 32nd against tight ends. By contrast, barely better than the Cardinals against wide receivers are the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, and both of those teams are within the top eight against tight ends. In short, a passing game against Arizona bears little to no resemblance to a passing game against any other team. So it's great that Ertz had two scores -- and that he and fellow tight end Brent Celek combined for the team's three touchdowns -- but it's really hard to imagine that this is the start of a new chapter in the Ertz saga.
Next game: Things turn on their heads for the Philadelphia offense next week, as they take on a Detroit Lions team that is tough against tight ends but very generous to wide receivers. With DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper both struggling Sunday, odds are good the team goes back to them in a big way next week, limiting Ertz's potential.
Rob Gronkowski, NE (127 yards, 1 touchdown, 18 fantasy points)
In just six games, Gronkowski has played himself to within a breath of top-10 tight end status. He's topped 100 yards three times in six games, and has now scored in four straight. Extrapolate his six-game statline over a full 16-game season, and he'd be on pace for almost 1,500 yards and more than 10 touchdowns. He's scored 11 or more fantasy points five times. You have to look really hard to find anything not to like about Gronkowski as a tight end other than "brittle." It continued Sunday, with a best of the season 21.2 yards per catch.
Next game: Gronkowski is matchup proof, so this space will note that the Patriots play the Cleveland Browns, and then will completely dismiss any significance there. Gronkowski owners will play Gronkowski. That is all.
Best kicker in Week 13
Adam Vinatieri, IND (5/5 FG, 1/1 XP, 20 fantasy points)
It's not just that Vinatieri converted five field goals Sunday; it's that four of them were from 40 or more yards. The 40-year-old missed two kicked in the season's first three weeks, but hasn't missed since, and has hit 15 from 40-plus yards on the season.
Best defense/special teams in Week 13
Detroit Lions (10 points allowed, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries, 21 fantasy points)
The Lions are not a good defense; their season-high in scoring was 13 in Week 4, and they had more negative scores this season than double-digit ones coming into Thanksgiving. In other words, this is not a "defense did good" entry, it's a "Holy crap, Matt Flynn is bad" one.