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(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings Friday.)
Fantasy Up: Rudi Johnson has a so-so matchup against the 49ers defense. On one hand, Patrick Willis and company have allowed just 3.7 yards per carry over the past month, but because teams get ahead of San Francisco and run out the clock, the 49ers have allowed 123.5 yards on the ground per game. Johnson is healthy and lost only seven carries to the combo of DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Watson in Week 14. Despite decent corners, the 49ers also give it up via the air; Larry Fitzgerald just killed them (with an assist from a halftime Hail Mary) in Week 13. Start T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer. I've cooled on Chris Henry, who had a single target in Week 14. I resisted the urge against the Rams, but the specter of another third-string opposing quarterback is too much: If you are in a tight spot with your regular defense, I can see using Cincinnati's. Overall, it's the 16th-highest-scoring fantasy unit (and is owned in just 11 percent of ESPN.com leagues). It produced a couple of turnovers and just 10 points allowed versus St. Louis. Keep using Arnaz Battle. His ankle is OK.
Fantasy Down: Frank Gore owners circled this as a good fantasy playoff matchup when the season started, but things have changed. The Bengals gave up only 88 yards on the ground to St. Louis in Week 14 and allowed just two rushing touchdowns and 71.6 rush yards per game in their past five. Meanwhile, Gore hobbled in and out of the Niners' previous tilt and has topped 100 yards once all year. Trent Dilfer got crushed by Charles Gordon while scrambling on a fourth-and-3 from the Vikings' 10-yard line and probably is out for the year. Shaun Hill went 22-of-27 for 181 yards and a touchdown in a full half of garbage time, but you want no part of him. Don't you just get that pure knucklehead feeling from Vernon Davis? He had two more false-start penalties against Minnesota, giving him seven on a season in which he has played just 11 games.
Fantasy Up: Bobby Engram, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson all partook of the touchdown fiesta against the injury-ravaged Arizona secondary (heck, even Marcus Pollard caught one), but Engram is the name to know. He was targeted most (six for him, five for Burleson, four for Branch) for the eighth time this year, and while I absolutely can see starting Branch as well, Engram's consistency has him verging on No 1. fantasy wideout territory. I continue to not like their run defense very much, but I can't imagine it'll matter that much Sunday, so I say start the Seahawks' defense with impunity.
Fantasy Down: I have Alexander rated No. 32 among rushers and Morris rated No. 35. Either can be a decent flex against Carolina, but don't rely on them for full starting-rusher numbers. There's a chance Vinny Testaverde could sit in favor of rookie Matt Moore. Vinny was beyond dreadful against Jacksonville (13-of-28 for 84 truly dreary yards and a pick returned for a touchdown), and really, what's the point? Jake Delhomme still leads this team in touchdown passes. Why is DeShaun Foster still playing over DeAngelo Williams? Bobby Petrino made the same mistake all year with Warrick Dunn, but at least he had the good sense to quit (more on that in a minute). In his latest misadventure, with his team somehow trailing only 10-6 at halftime, Foster fumbled on the first play of the third quarter. Now, it's not like Williams doesn't fumble; he does, and often. But Foster isn't the future, folks. John Fox calling two timeouts under the three-minute mark while down 31 points looked a lot like Nero with his fiddle.
Fantasy Up: Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas have gotten some publicity for their play but not enough. Against the Jets, they were ridiculous run-blockers, and Jamal Lewis wasn't the only beneficiary; Jerome Harrison broke a big one on the first play of the fourth quarter. Lewis is a top-five fantasy back this week against a Buffalo defense that allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing rushers the past five weeks. I'm not losing my lunch over Trent Edwards' big day against winless Miami, but the signs were good, and the Browns proved they are susceptible to the pass again in Week 14. In a 16-team league, if you've been starting one of the many injury-ravaged signal-callers, Edwards doesn't make a horrible play. I guess you have to use Marshawn Lynch, who turned 23 carries into 107 yards in his first week back, but Fred Jackson will take a lot of touches, too (15 for 115 yards in Week 14). The Bills love Lynch at the goal line, though, so he's the more valuable guy. Lee Evans can be your flex this week, but you'd better hope the Bills break out with a big lead. That seems to be the only time he gets motivated to score long touchdowns.
Fantasy Down: Neither defense interests me. The Bills lost another secondary member, safety George Wilson (who scored a defensive touchdown before breaking ribs in Week 14), for the season and shouldn't have answers for Derek Anderson, Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, et al. And while the Browns aren't giving up a ton of fantasy points on the ground, that's mostly because teams are scoring via the air (the Browns still allowed 4.5 yards per carry in their past five games). It'll be cold with a chance of snow in Cleveland on Sunday, which could limit the air show. But barring weather issues, I think you're looking at a lot of points here.
Fantasy Up: LenDale White owners breathed a sigh of relief just as Kolby Smith owners cursed their fate in Week 14. White got 30 carries to Chris Brown's five versus the Chargers, while Smith rushed 13 times for 12 yards in a game in which the Chiefs played from way behind. The Chiefs gave up big days in consecutive weeks to Selvin Young (twice), Joseph Addai, LaDainian Tomlinson and Justin Fargas; there's no reason to think White won't do damage Sunday. And I'd get Smith in there, too. Tomlinson finally got to the Titans because Norv Turner finally stuck with the run all day, and it's unlikely Tennessee will build a huge lead early. Both of these coaches prefer blood-and-guts games, and frankly, the Chiefs aren't capable of playing any other kind. (Boy, are there a lot of bad offenses in the NFL, or what?) I'd feel pretty good about using the Titans' defense; they've got two studs on the defensive line, a great outside linebacker and surprising depth at safety.
Fantasy Down: Man, Vince Young still is impossibly rough around the edges. Sure, it did look as though he'd been partially concussed against San Diego, but at least two or three killer poor reads a game seem to be guaranteed with this kid. Antonio Cromartie's league-leading ninth interception was a gift. Dwayne Bowe officially has only four drops this year, but two came against Denver, just a continued indication the Chiefs' attention has flagged. I've ranked Bowe below flex-worthy levels. Ty Law is owed $6.5 million next year, and if the Chiefs pay him, they're crazy. Patrick Surtain wasn't good against Denver, but Law was torched. Too bad I don't trust Young to take advantage, but they are reason enough to skip using the Chiefs' defense, even with Jared Allen playing so well.
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Fantasy Down: If Samkon Gado does it again? Well, you're allowed to yell at me. I've liked Miami's offensive line all year, but to my eyes, it's played much worse over the past couple of games, and Gado has a big challenge this week: The Ravens' rush defense, which, despite everything, is still stout (it allowed almost exactly 3 yards per carry in the past five games). Of course, Gado earned a place in the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame by offering groin shots all around during the 2005 fantasy playoffs, but his two touchdowns against Buffalo were bunnies he lucked into. Jesse Chatman still could suit up, and Lorenzo Booker will steal touches. I'd stay away. I suppose I understand why Cam Cameron would switch back from Beck to Cleo Lemon: If Cameron doesn't win a game, he'll get fired. Still, this won't benefit the Dolphins long term. Ted Ginn Jr. and Beck were one-two in the '07 draft, and they should be getting every snap possible. Todd Heap might try to play this week. Beep. Todd Heap might try to play this week. Beep. Todd Heap might try to play this week. Beep.
Fantasy Up: This just in: The Patriots are good. But they're not that good. I don't think any pro football line should ever be 27, especially not in a potential snow game. Nobody is more familiar with the Pats than Mangenius, and nobody wants to stop them more. If this really is a snow game, so much the better. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the gang would be in your starting lineup even if a monsoon descended on Foxborough, but I expect this to be closer than the wise guys predict. That said, I still definitely would use the Patriots' defense. They'll benefit from weather too, obviously, and they'll be merciless on the kid quarterback. In my Wednesday rankings, I erroneously put Laveranues Coles higher than Jerricho Cotchery. That will be fixed in my Friday update. Coles gutted out a bad ankle against Cleveland, but he's not right and probably shouldn't start in fantasy playoff games. Cotchery, on the other hand, turned his "doubtful" pregame status into nine targets, six catches and 119 yards. He's had big games against the Pats before, and I can see using him.
Fantasy Down: Thomas Jones was my "Alone On An Island" pick from Week 14 (I had him rated quite a bit lower than other ESPN folk), and while Jones did rush for 106 yards against the Browns, he was stuffed on his only goal-line attempt and still has scored in only one game this season. Nevertheless, that output put him 18th among fantasy rushers last week, which (I have to admit) was even higher than I had him. Regardless, despite the fact that the Pats have sputtered stopping the run in recent weeks, I'd stay away from Jones and that very bad offensive line.
Fantasy Up: Drew Brees and Marques Colston are must-starts, but can you safely use any other New Orleans receiver? David Patten caught nine passes for 122 yards and a pretty touchdown against Atlanta, but he's had good games a few times this year and often put up goose eggs right after. Devery Henderson has three scores and is a deep threat, but no, you don't want him. And all those other receivers who for some reason wear uniform numbers in the teens? I don't think so. Colston is probably the only fantasy starter. Larry Fitzgerald had to play in a modified girdle in Seattle and will be similarly outfitted in "I Love Lucy" gear Sunday, but he should start. Against this poor Saints secondary, he's a must-use. Aaron Stecker ran it 20 times for 100 yards against the Falcons, and while the competition will be tougher here, I'd still use him. I worried he might not get Reggie Bush's full job, and that someone like Pierre Thomas might steal part of his gig, but that certainly didn't happen Monday.
Fantasy Down: I was thoroughly incorrect about Edgerrin James in Seattle. While James rushed for 128 yards against Seattle the first time around, he managed only 46 yards in Week 14, when the Cards got away from the run early. In 12-team leagues, you probably still have to use Edge, but I'm less enthusiastic about him against Will Smith and company. The Cardinals lead the league in penalties, and watching that all-important divisional tilt against the Seahawks, I couldn't help thinking Ken Whisenhunt (a reputed disciplinarian) isn't tough enough. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett committed a ridiculous tearing-the-helmet-off-an-opponent personal foul in the fourth quarter while the game was still in reach, then reportedly got into an altercation with a teammate after the game.
Fantasy Up: Despite his 124-yard output against the Patriots, Willie Parker dipped to 14th among fantasy backs on my Wednesday list, but I'm bumping him back up inside the top 10 on Friday. Stroud's injury, and the continued absence of end Reggie Hayward, makes this matchup a little less daunting. He might not ever score another touchdown (kidding), but Sunday won't be a disaster. Fred Taylor deserves to be ranked ahead of Maurice Jones-Drew, and not just because he took one 80 yards to the house against Carolina. Four straight games, Taylor has outcarried MJD, including an 18-11 margin in Week 14. I have Taylor No. 22 and MJD No. 24, so we're splitting hairs; each is a borderline No. 2 against the ever-brutal Steelers rush D. I thought Ben Roethlisberger played very well against New England. I know the final score didn't show it, but there were a few times in the first half that the game could've gotten out of control, and Big Ben willed his offense to stay in it. By now you know he's an every-week starter; I expect another very good game. I like the Steelers' defense more than the Jags', though each has to be taken down a peg because of the injuries. Troy Polamalu should play for Pittsburgh.
Fantasy Down: I have not given up entirely on Heath Miller, but I've got Marcedes Lewis ranked a notch higher this week, and Miller is trying his owners' patience. He does have nine targets and eight receptions the past two weeks, but for just 58 yards. The Steelers tried him in the red zone early in New England, but then went away from him. Santonio Holmes isn't on Pittsburgh's injury report, which is a bit specious, since he left the Pats game with ankle pain. If he draws Brian Williams, I kind of like the matchup, and I rated Holmes as a borderline starter. But beware.
Fantasy Up: Steven Jackson had 18 carries for 91 yards in Cincy, his fourth straight week listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam (that is, a fourth straight week in the '90s). As was the case against the Niners, Seahawks and Falcons, S-Jax basically had one terrific run (in this case a 54-yarder) and otherwise did nada. To my eyes, it seems like this patchwork O-line can do one of two things: open rush lanes or keep the quarterback upright -- but not both. Still, if Jackson breaks another big one against a Pack D-line that's lost a lot of depth, he makes for a decent fantasy start. What to do with Donald Driver? Greg Jennings is the obvious play among Green Bay receivers, but Driver hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3. Simply put, Driver has always had a possession receiver's skills, but was forced into a downfield role. Watch the routes he ran against Oakland: hooks, outs and ins. He's not beyond 20 yards very often. In point-per-reception leagues, he's still golden. Otherwise, he's only a borderline fantasy starter. Grant has rushed for the most yards in the NFL since Week 8.
Fantasy Down: As of this writing, Marc Bulger was on track to return, but I've still rated him well outside fantasy starter territory. First, I don't trust that he'll definitely play. Second, can he take a hit? And third, Charles Woodson started against Oakland, and while I've not completely bought into Woodson's resurgence, he's much better than any other corner the Pack can muster. Jeff Wilkins has six outdoor misses this year. He's 14-for-15 in domes and 7-for-13 outside.
Fantasy Up: The Falcons played terribly in the secondary Monday night, and rookie Chris Houston isn't ready for this big a role in the NFL. Accordingly, I like Jeff Garcia a lot this week. He practiced fully Wednesday, and appears on track to start. Joey Galloway gets a bump up as a result; he was questionable with a bad toe for the Houston game, but came through fine. Roddy White is an every-week starter. He's caught touchdowns from three quarterbacks this year, and has scored in three straight games. He's the 16th-highest-scoring fantasy receiver in the NFL, but is still unowned in one-third of ESPN.com leagues. He's also five yards away from 1,000. Respect the Roddy! With Jerramy Stevens serving a one-game suspension, Alex Smith gets a push upward in the tight end ranks. I'll be honest: Earnest Graham was pretty lucky last week. He misread plays, dropped a couple screens, and was pretty much a non-factor against Houston, but still scored twice. I've been asked a bunch of times if I think Graham is the definite starter in Tampa next year, and I have to say, no. I think Cadillac Williams will get every chance to reclaim his job. The right side of the Tampa O-line, Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph, is finally living up to its potential, and that's got a lot to do with Graham's success. All that said, Graham's a great play against the Falcons this week.
Fantasy Down: Chris Redman played pretty well against New Orleans, and in deep leagues where your regular quarterback is hurt, I guess he's an option. But really, it'd just be best to avoid the Petrino Bomb entirely. One interesting aspect of this Atlanta mess will be whether Jerious Norwood finally gets his fair shake. I've said it several times this year: Petrino sticking so long with Warrick Dunn was his worst mistake.
Fantasy Up: Justin Fargas had to leave the Green Bay game with injured ribs, but has practiced this week and, as of this writing, appeared likely to carry his customary load. The Colts aren't a great run-stopping team anyway, and injuries to Raheem Brock, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea make this a much friendlier matchup for Fargas and the improved Raiders O-line. This is a 4:05 p.m. ET start, so it'll be hard to get absolute confirmation, but I'd lean toward using Fargas. Before I had a sense of those injuries, I had the Colts D rated sixth this week, but I've bounced them down to 12th, meaning you can still start them in deeper leagues but they're not a no-brainer. Listen, I dig a good team putting pressure on Josh McCown and JaMarcus Russell as much as anyone, but I wouldn't be able to pick Quinn Pitcock, Keyunta Dawson or Matt Giordano out of a lineup, and they're starting for Indy Sunday.
Fantasy Down: Don't get carried away by Anthony Gonzalez. Yes, the starting role opposite Reggie Wayne is valuable, and I don't trust Fabian Washington much as Oakland's second corner. But Gonzalez scored his two long touchdowns against not-ready-for-prime-time corner David Pittman and almost-as-bad Corey Ivy, each of whom would apparently buy the Brooklyn Bridge. It would have to be a pretty deep league for me to start Gonzo. McCown will start over Daunte Culpepper, and Russell will get a few series. I don't know about Lane Kiffin's strategy of holding Russell out of the Green Bay game because he doesn't want the rookie playing in cold weather. Swaddling clothes can't be far behind.
Fantasy Up: Owens will perform well against the Eagles, because he's petty, and because Philly won't play such a strict umbrella zone as the Lions did. (It's what led to Jason Witten's career day.) Brian Westbrook's third-quarter fumble at the Giants' 37-yard line was the single biggest killer in Week 14's loss. Westbrook is far from a fumbler (six in six years), but what terrible timing. Last time out against Dallas, though, he had 14 catches for 90 yards. Patrick Crayton wore a walking boot around Cowboys camp early this week, but he's expected to play. The Eagles have allowed huge days to multiple opposing wide receivers in each of their past three games. Absolutely no way you start the Philly defense here, but Trent Cole deserves mention. He was all over Dave Diehl in Week 14, notching two more sacks. With Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard likely coming off the books next year, here's hoping Cole gets more help on the D-line. His speed and power against massive Flozell Adams will be fun to watch; Adams mostly got the upper hand back in Week 9. Underappreciated bounce that saved Romo's hide on a late fumble, eh? Lions linebacker Paris Lenon could've just fallen on it, but he mucked it up and guard Kyle Kosier saved the game.
Fantasy Down: McNabb had a weird outing against the Giants. He looked substantially more mobile in the pocket, quickly avoiding would-be sackers, often making something from nothing. But as soon as he'd get away from a New York rusher, he'd fire some uncatchable bullet to an open receiver. This is going to be a very interesting offseason for Philly. As it is, I probably wouldn't use McNabb this week. I know Kevin Curtis has decent aggregate numbers on the season (59 catches, 930 yards, five scores), but I'd rather use someone else in my fantasy playoffs. He'll get you four catches for 40 yards, but he's not the deep threat that can challenge Dallas' safeties.
Fantasy Up: How about LaDainian Tomlinson completely blowing off an ineffective Rivers on the Chargers bench? Imagine if Terrell Owens or Randy Moss acted so petulantly in full camera view. Yeah, but it doesn't matter; LT will be huge once more. Tackle Marcus McNeill, last year's media darling for a sack-free rookie year, had his worst day as a pro trying to block Kyle Vanden Bosch of Tennessee last week. Time and time again, the Titans abused McNeill with a speed rush around the outside; on the day, Vanden Bosch registered three sacks (and, on the whole, the Titans had five). The Chargers had only allowed seven sacks in their previous six games. Even without Merriman, use the Chargers defense. The Lions have committed 11 turnovers and allowed 15 sacks in their past five games. Twelve targets and eight receptions later, and it's Shaun McDonald who tasted first blood in replacing Roy Williams as Detroit's top receiver. Calvin Johnson had eight targets and five catches, while Mike Furrey had just three and two, respectively. I've rated McDonald as a borderline No. 2 fantasy receiver, but whether last week's results will translate to this week is anyone's guess. Even Mike Martz's.
Fantasy Down: Rivers was putrid for three quarters, but put together a couple late drives to save himself from ignominy. The Lions have gotten nothing from tackle Shaun Rogers all year, and appear to be primed to allow a huge day to Tomlinson. That would be for the best, as far as Rivers is concerned. Best line of the week from perpetual ignorant quote machine, Jon Kitna: Asked if he's disappointed by his team's failure to meet his projection of 10 wins, Kitna said, "We can still reach it. Once that's eliminated and we can't, we'll be disappointed." Great, except his team's 6-7 with three to play. Oh, sure, maybe he's trying to imply a playoff win would push the Lions to double digits. But it just sounds funnier the other way, doesn't it?
Fantasy Up: Plaxico Burress gutted out a terrific performance against the Eagles last week, after he looked positively gimpy in pregame warm-ups. Was he playing possum? Maybe. After the game, Tom Coughlin said Burress is healthier than he's been in months. I like Burress to be the beneficiary of Manning's second-half alarm clock Sunday. The Giants may be the most skittish 9-4 team in league history. Everyone's waiting for the roof to cave in. Brandon Jacobs did his part with two fumbles in Philly, the second of which was such an utter gift that it almost led to overtime. But Jacobs is still a solid start against a decent (but not excellent) Washington rush defense. Todd Collins makes for a fine story, and he played well pulling out the Thursday Bears game, but the Giants pressure should eat him up. Normally, I'd be concerned about so many rookies in the secondary (Aaron Ross, Craig Dahl and Michael Johnson all started in Week 14), but I don't think Collins will consistently get enough time to take advantage. Start the Giants D.
Fantasy Down: Clinton Portis did break a fine 54-yard run off a dump-off pass, but was otherwise bottled up by a shaky Bears rush defense for just 36 yards on 17 carries. Washington had its worst rushing day since 1974, with just 34 yards in Week 14, and the loss of just-returned guard Randy Thomas doesn't help. Add that to Jason Campbell's absence (and Collins' presence), and while I'd say you probably have to start Portis (because he's probably one of the two best rushers on your fantasy roster), I'm worried. Who else wishes the flex game this week was Buffalo-Cleveland?
Fantasy Up: Don't be turned off by Adrian Peterson's (the Vikings flavor) poor effort in San Francisco. Chicago is ripe for another big rushing performance; they lost defensive tackles Anthony Adams and Antonio Garay for the season, and Darwin Walker has a bad shoulder that could cause him to sit, too. We're down to the practice squad here, people (plus recently-signed bust Jimmy Kennedy). Peterson is a must-start in all formats, and as I've said a few weeks running, Chester Taylor should be considered as a flex. The Vikings D is the highest-scoring in ESPN.com leagues, and there's no reason not to use 'em in this spot. It's a national TV home game with the playoffs at stake, a third-string opposing quarterback and a ball-control Vikes offense. The past four weeks, this defense has scored 10, 30, 16 and 23 fantasy points.
Fantasy Down: Adrian Peterson (the Bears flavor) has a terrible matchup against the Vikings rush defense, and netted just 35 yards on 17 carries against the not-great Redskins D. I'm disappointed, and so was Lovie Smith: He gave Garrett Wolfe most of Peterson's playing time in the fourth quarter. Unless you're out of options, don't start this Peterson. And unfortunately, as hyped-up as I've been about Bernard Berrian (and his impending free agency) this month, and as good as he looked scoring his fourth touchdown in Washington (on a terrific grab), the Orton factor worries me. I've dipped Berrian out of starter territory, and into deep-flex land. In this same game, Sidney Rice makes almost as good an option as Berrian. Tarvaris Jackson has 12, 16 and 11 fantasy points the past three weeks, and with Nathan Vasher either out or highly limited, the matchup here isn't scary. But seriously, do you really want to bow out of your fantasy playoffs having benched your regular starter for Jackson? Forget the Bears defense. Don't start them again this year. You'll thank me.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.