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Mike's Mailbag: Oh, Carolina!

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The fantasy playoffs bring elation, jubilation, and for some, a case of white knuckles as they work the drop-down menus. Others are battling for pride in the consolation bracket.

But, it hasn't stopped the flow of mail into my inbox. We've got questions about choosing between veteran QBs, rolling the dice on young running backs, and breaking through the weather among wideouts.

It's win or go home as we sort through the mail. Let's start with a question from Germany.

Need help deciding how to arrange my running backs for an upcoming crucial playoff game. Out of Tiki Barber, Samkon Gado, Steven Jackson, and Clinton Portis, which three get the starting nod from you in Week 15? – Bob in Hamburg, Germany

Bob –
With his huge first half, Steven Jackson was on his way to becoming one of the game's elite backs, and then injuries hit St. Louis and his numbers suffered. He's scored just one TD in the past five weeks, and has averaged only 55 total yards in the past two. Opposing defensive coordinators are bringing the heat against rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, which is serving to obliterate all running lanes for Jackson. Jackson has a good matchup on paper, as the Eagles have allowed 100-yard games to three of the past four running backs they've faced. However, the variability of his Touches concerns me, and pushes me in the direction of your other three backs.

Few backs are running any better than Samkon Gado right now. He's scored in five of his six starts while averaging 24 Touches per game. The Ravens are surrendering 107 yards per game on the ground. I expect another big performance out of Gado this week against Baltimore.

Tiki Barber hasn't found the end zone much of late, but Tom Coughlin knows that the Giants' playoff aspirations require a huge workload from his tailback. Barber has amassed at least 90 yards of offense in eight straight games and has topped 175 yards in four of them. The Giants figure to be in a dogfight this week, with both teams' offenses getting things rolling. Even though the Chiefs allow only 95 rushing yards per game, Barber's brilliance in the passing game gets him in my starting lineup.

Finally, the Redskins still have hopes of creeping into the playoffs, and Joe Gibbs has turned back to Clinton Portis to keep them alive. He's scored in four of his past six games while eclipsing 87 rushing yards in five of those contests. Portis has also averaged 25 carries per game since the Week 8 debacle against the Giants. I don't expect a huge game against the Cowboys, but he's assured the opportunity to make a play.


I need some help. I have too many mediocre running backs, but any can have that big game I need for playoff time. Which two should I start out of Mike Anderson, Ricky Williams, and Ryan Moats (my other start is a no-brainer with Shaun Alexander)? They all have pretty good matchups and no one is on a hot streak. Any help would be helpful. – Jason in Perry, MI

Jason –
I'm torn on Mike Anderson this week. Two of his past three performances have been terrible, and he's a Greg Wesley bow to the turf in Week 13 away from another smallish stat line. However, the matchup against the abysmal Buffalo run defense is just too strong to pass up. I expect Mike Shanahan to pound the ball with Anderson and Tatum Bell on Saturday. So, I'm reserving one slot for him.

In the other, I'm inserting the rookie Ryan Moats. His burst of speed to the outside was blinding, and he figures to amass a heavy workload this week on the fast track in St. Louis. The Rams allow 137 yards and nearly one-and-a-half scores per game on the ground. With the erratic play from Mike McMahon, Andy Reid will increase his carries. And, I absolutely love the home run threat he brings on every Touch (11 carries for 114 yards and two scores in Week 14).

Ricky Williams has been a factor for the Dolphins, but he's still sharing the load with Ronnie Brown, and that's keeping his Touches between 10 and 15 each week. The Jets won't pose much of an offensive threat, but I think Nick Saban wants to see what he has at the QB position in Gus Frerotte these past three weeks. I expect Frerotte's passing attempts to remain up despite the porous Jets run defense. I'd take my shot with the rookie Moats.


Who should I start this week – Drew Brees or Kerry Collins? I have sat Randy Moss down for the past two weeks. Is it time for him to get going or his he gone? It's the playoffs! Help … – Jim in St. Petersburg, FL

Jim –
I like Brees in a potential shootout against the Colts this week. San Diego has its backs to the wall for a playoff berth following the loss to Miami this week. LaDainian Tomlinson is back as near to 100 percent as any back will be in Week 15 (save those that just started playing in the past 2-3 weeks, but I digress) and figures to up his production this week. I know it's a different year for the Colts defense, but I believe that the Chargers will come out firing this week in their quest to break the streak. Though only six of his 22 TD passes have been thrown on the road, he has turned in two multi-TD performances. I look for him turn in his third this week.

I believe Collins will be fired up this week after being benched by Norv Turner for Week 14, but that Romeo Crennel will be able to contain the passing game. LaMont Jordan has scored nine of his 11 touchdowns this season at home. I expect that he'll be the main factor in the Raiders attack this week. Look for 200 yards and a score this week from Collins, but don't expect more.


All right, Mike, I've got four options at tailback this week and two slots. Who do I play out of Corey Dillon, Carnell Williams, Willie Parker, and Greg Jones? – Ian in Raleigh, NC

Ian –
Parker set the tone in last week's game against Chicago with his 45-yard reception in the first quarter. He piled up his largest workload against the Bears since Week 2 with 23 Touches. However, Parker's found the end zone only once in the past seven weeks, and Jerome Bettis got back on track against Chicago as well. Of course, Bettis is going to pilfer everything in short yardage and goal line situations, so I'd leave Parker on the bench.

He should be joined on the pine by Corey Dillon on a strict matchup play against the Buccaneers. The Bucs allow only 92 yards per game and have surrendered but eight rushing touchdowns on the year. I expect that he'll pile up yardage in wintry conditions at home, but that it will ultimately become an Adam Vinatieri-fest.

I give Greg Jones a slight edge over Dillon based on his strong matchup this week against San Francisco. Fred Taylor was clearly not ready to return last week and will be limited again this week. San Francisco allows 121 yards and 1.25 TDs per game on the ground. I expect Jack Del Rio to turn to his second-year back again this week, and for Jones to be back around 20 Touches with a score.

The must start player out of this group is Carnell Williams. He proved his brilliance last week in a tough matchup against Panthers. He turned a difficult situation into his first two touchdown NFL performance. Jon Gruden turns to his rookie tailback with great regularity on the road, as he averages 25 Touches per game away from home. After a rough stretch following his injury, Williams has topped 90 total yards in four straight weeks. I like Williams for another big workload and TD this week.


Mike:
I've got a choice of starting two of the following three this week: Domanick Davis, DeShaun Foster, or Ryan Moats. Who would you start? – Mat in Philadelphia, PA

Mat –
I love Moats this week against the Rams, but I like the productivity and dominance of these other two backs slightly more. You do need to check on the health of Domanick Davis's knee ahead of game time. Provided he's healthy, he's a must start. Since returning from his two-game absence, Davis has scored in three of four games and topped 100 total yards in four straight. In the past two weeks, he's topped 170 yards. It's a great spot for him to do more damage this week against the Cardinals.

DeShaun Foster will get back on track this week after being slowed by a shoulder injury in Week 14. He faces a New Orleans run defense that has allowed 136 yards and a TD per game. The Carolina defense will get after Todd Bouman and create short fields for Jake Delhomme and the offense. That gets Foster back to the 100-yard mark and a score this week.


Help Mike! I'm playing for pride at this point (consolation round) and in need of some QB advice. I've got both Matt Hasselbeck (coming off a killer week 14) and Kurt Warner (Houston matchup looking strong) ready to go. I'm at a loss as to who to start? – Tom in Bentonville, AR

Tom –
I don't think you have a bad option here. It just becomes a matter of which QB scores more. The presence of Shaun Alexander and his quest for the single-season TD record concerns me to some degree as to how much Hasselbeck's arm will be needed. He's in a great spot this week against the young and inexperienced Tennessee secondary (26 passing TDs allowed) so he's certainly a solid play, particularly coming off of that brilliant game last week, as you mentioned, and welcoming back top receiver Darrell Jackson.

However, I can't look away from the weekly aerial assault from Kurt Warner over the past six weeks. He's topped 250 passing yards in each of those games and is averaging more than 40 attempts per game. With no assistance from the running game, and Houston looking for the draft rights to Reggie Bush (Kris Brown, you didn't need to hook it quite so much), I expect another big day from Warner in terms of yardage, but also multiple TD strikes through the air. Houston has allowed 20 passing TDs this season while intercepting only four passes. They have no answer for Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.


Mike, HUGE playoff game against a rival this weekend … so I gotta know … Plaxico Burress or Rod Smith? And "Cadillac" Williams or DeShaun Foster? I have to win this game … help me out, Sensei … – Mark in New Haven, IN

Mark –
In your receiver quandary, I like Burress over Smith for a couple reasons. First, the Chiefs defense allows over 247 yards and nearly two passing touchdowns per game. Additionally, Burress was targeted only four times in last week's win over Philadelphia. I expect the Giants and Eli Manning to look his way more frequently this week. He averages five catches and 77 yards per game at home this year where he's scored five of his six touchdowns. Denver is most likely going to look to pound the ball with Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell in their matchup against the run-deficient Buffalo defense. It's going to be cold, windy, and miserable in Buffalo, and that will limit Jake Plummer's productivity.

At the RB position, I know that New England plays well at home late in the year, but I'm endorsing the Cadillac for your starting lineup for all the reasons outlined previously. His performance in a huge spot last week against Carolina moved him up a level among running backs. This is another huge spot for him this week as Tampa Bay battles for its playoff lives.


After an injury-plagued 0-4 start to my year, I somehow managed to build a waiver team off your advice that won 10 straight and carried me into the playoffs. Now, I need some more advice on my on RB lineup for the playoffs. Larry Johnson is my main man, but after trading Samkon Gado for DEF and K upgrades I need a second back. My choices off the wire are: T.J. Duckett, Jerome Bettis, Ricky Williams, or Ryan Moats. – Craig in Kansas City, MO

Craig –
Thanks for the support. I'm glad we got your season turned around.

Out of this quartet, I believe there are two options that stand out. First, you've got Jerome Bettis, who will always be a threat to find the end zone and will pick up 12-15 Touches against the Vikings. In a must-win game for the Steelers in a ferocious battle for the playoffs and Ben Roethlisberger still battling that banged up thumb, I expect Bill Cowher to turn to his veteran back.

The other option that jumps off the page is Ryan Moats. Andy Reid wants to increase his touches this week as they face the St. Louis run defense. And, he's a home run threat each and every time he touches it.

Ultimately, I'm going old school and looking for a big game out of Jerome Bettis.


I have both the Chicago and Atlanta defenses and they're facing off this week. Do I go with the established success of the Bears or the Falcons against a rookie QB? Help! – Troy in Muncy, PA

Troy –
I expect the Bears defense to rebound from last week's game against Pittsburgh and to bring the heat on the injured Michael Vick. I expect them to force several turnovers in arctic conditions in Chicago and to hunker down and control the Falcons' running game.

Atlanta's defense will certainly get a couple of opportunities to make plays off the arm of Kyle Orton, but I anticipate that Chicago turns to Thomas Jones and Adrian Peterson for a heavy workload. Therefore, their opportunities will be limited. And, the release of Bobby Wade last week eliminates several potential turnovers each week from the return game.

I wish you all nothing but shootouts across the schedule and pinball-like updates on your StatTracker . Don't worry, someone's bound to fire an interception or two to keep your defenses in the black.

Best of luck this week, and as always, continued domination.

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