Mike's Mailbag: Packer Backer

Mike Harmon
Yahoo! Sports

Week 11 brings a bevy of big games on the schedule, and a couple that were circled on the slate in the preseason that aren't nearly as appealing now. Yes, I'm looking squarely at the AFC North matchup in Baltimore – no division title battle, no Big Ben, and no signs of a Ravens running game.

The mailbag is chock full of pesky running back and wide receiver situations, and many of the questions this week included references to one or more players from the Packers. Samkon Gado might have been the most inquired about player this week. In addition to tackling the Monday night game, current and former Denver running backs are causing conundrums for owners, injured players are getting back on the field, and owners want to know if rookie Matt Jones is for real.

I'll tackle these and many other gripping sit/start concerns as I rip through the mailbag. Let's get after it.

I've got Warrick Dunn, Clinton Portis, and Mike Anderson. Which two of the three running backs should I play this week (looking for TDs moreso than yardage)? – Dustin in Athens, GA

Dustin –
In looking at this week's matchups, Dunn appears to be the odd man out of this equation. Dunn goes up against a difficult Tampa Bay defense looking to rebound from the big game put on them by Clinton Portis a week ago. Even with Portis' big day factored in, the Buccaneers are still only allowing 88 rushing yards per game. Additionally, T.J. Duckett is ready to increase his workload, and will vulture away those precious goal-line opportunities.

Portis goes up against a Raiders defense that allows 116 yards and more than a TD per game on the ground. Save the Week 8 debacle against the Giants, when he carried the ball only four times, Portis' workload has been steady for the past several weeks. He's rushed 44 times for 211 yards in the past two weeks, and more importantly, has found the end zone in both of those games. Portis is a strong play this week against Oakland.

Anderson finds himself in a tremendous spot this week against a weak Jets run defense (29th-ranked at 135 yards per game). He's scored in four straight games, and continues to be the workhorse for the Broncos running attack (18 carries per game in Denver's past eight games). The Broncos play extremely well at home and the offense will have ample opportunity to capitalize on the mistakes of young Brooks Bollinger.

I have a quandary at RB. I drafted Dominick Davis and Julius Jones, but have gotten little utility along the way. I've managed to acquire Jonathon Wells, Willie Parker, and Samkon Gado, but now I have the problem of finding the right two. Which combo should I use going forward in my desperate playoff push? (note: this is a .5 point per reception league) – Spadee in Bell Vernon, PA

Spadee –
Right now, it's difficult to look to Julius Jones and Willie Parker. Both are returning from injuries with other backs pilfering carries (Marion Barber, Jerome Bettis, and Duce Staley). Since neither back has a guaranteed heavy workload for Week 11, I'd look to the other backs.

Samkon Gado is the "no-doubter" player in this group. The Packers have no other option in the backfield right now, and they've finally been able to establish a running game behind Gado. He's already scored as many touchdowns this year in two games as the trio of Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, and Tony Fisher had in half a season. And, he's in a great spot this week against the Minnesota defense.

For the other back, I'd keep an eye on the game-time notes for the Texans. If Davis is cleared to go, look to him against the Chiefs. If not, Wells has proven a viable substitute. Wells has scored in two straight games and gone over 75 all-purpose yards two weeks in a row. David Carr and the passing attack should be able to move the ball, thus opening things up for the running game.

I'm having some trouble with the WR position this week. I've got Donald Driver, Keyshawn Johnson, Drew Bennett, Matt Jones, Eric Moulds, and Brian Finneran for three spots. Driver is a lock, but aside from that I'm lost. Any suggestions? – Todd in Minneapolis, MN

Todd –
Of the lot, Matt Jones is the player that leaps off the page into a starting role. Jimmy Smith and Ernest Wilford are both banged up and their availability for Week 11 is somewhat in question. Jones has scored in three of his past four games, and the rookie posted his first 100-yard game last week.

Joining Driver and Jones in the starting lineup would be Keyshawn Johnson against the Lions. I hesitate to predict too big an outing for J.P. Losman against the Chargers, and Brian Finneran is part of the enigmatic Falcons offense. Johnson has scored in two of the past three games, and has caught four or more passes in five straight weeks. As an aside, Drew Bledsoe stands as one of the final four quarterbacks in the NFL this year to start every game, and account for at least one TD in each of them. I look for a multi-TD outing this week, with Johnson on the receiving end of one of them.

Mike, I don't know whom to start at QB for Week 11. I have Brad Johnson against a seemingly improved Green Bay defense, Eli Manning (coming off his horrible game last week) versus a banged up Eagles defense, and Ben Roethlisberger, who is questionable to play against a Ravens defense that he's beaten since last season. Whom do you think should be my quarterback for Week 11? – Mark in Legazpi City, Philippines

Mark –
Roethlisberger will be the backup to Tommy Maddox on Sunday, so he needs to remain on your bench. Of the other two, I'm looking for a big rebound start from Eli Manning this week. The Eagles secondary is banged up, and there are clearly a number of distractions in the locker room. Additionally, the Giants defense will attack Mike McMahon, forcing him into difficult decisions and a rough outing. I fully expect Manning and the Giants to control the ball and rack up points this week. Following up on the piece of trivia in the last response, Manning joins Bledsoe as one of those four quarterbacks to toss at least one TD in every start. Manning will achieve his first multi-TD game since Week 7 against Denver.

Who should I play this week? Anquan Boldin or Andre Johnson? Boldin is expected to play and Johnson has shown some life. I play my brother, so I need to win. Thanks for the advice. – Jacob in Los Angeles, CA

Jacob –
Boldin returned to the practice field on Thursday and reported no discomfort in his knee. Though I believe that Johnson and the Texans will be able make some things happen against the Chiefs pass defense, I'd look to Boldin this week against the Rams. Kurt Warner has gone over 300 yards in each of his past two outings, and has developed a tremendous rapport with second-year standout Larry Fitzgerald. With the attention afforded to Fitzgerald, Boldin will make plays over the middle with an eye toward busting one or two long ones. The Rams allow more than 240 passing yards and nearly two passing touchdowns per game. I believe you'll see a big day out of Warner and company in a shootout this week.

Well, I'm kind of stumped with whom to go with for running back this week. It's either Mike Anderson or Reuben Droughns. Anderson is going against a weaker run defense but, as we all know, shares carries with Tatum Bell, which really hasn't been that much of a factor. Droughns, on the other hand, has been getting better and better with every game and has finally found the red zone. I would appreciate any feedback that you have for me. – George in Crown Point, IN

George –
I don't think you can really go wrong with either of these backs this week, but I like Anderson's chances to find the end zone slightly more in his matchup against the atrocious Jets run defense. Anderson has scored in four straight games, the Jets give up yardage in big chunks, and this week's escapades with Herman Edwards' situation can't be good for anyone.

Though Droughns has improved week-to- week and has become the focal point in the Cleveland offense (99-plus yards of offense in four straight weeks), I hesitate to recommend him this week. Miami gives up a decent amount of yards on the ground (115 per game), but have been stingy against running backs in the red zone (.67 touchdowns per game allowed). Droughns is a solid play in favor of most backs right now, but Anderson in the Denver offense at home is that much better.

I have a tough start this week at the defensive position. Should I take the ridiculously productive Chicago defense at home against Carolina or the respectable Denver defense also at home against a very weak New York Jets team? – Stuart in Fairbanks, AK

Stuart –
I look for the Bears to turn in another solid performance against Carolina this week, but I don't see them generating the amount of turnovers that you'll see by the Denver defense. The weather forecast includes more wind and some rain and perhaps snow in Chicago, meaning that the passing game will take a step back. And, though the overall numbers for the Denver pass defense aren't overly intimidating (248 yards, 1.5 passing touchdowns per game), I believe they'll be able to force Brooks Bollinger into some bad throws and turnover opportunities.

I need your advice. I am sitting fourth place in my league. My opponent is in first place. I do not want to lose again. Who do I start and bench? I have three options for my second RB: Samkon Gado, Marion Barber, or Thomas Jones? And for my WR: Kevin Curtis or Hines Ward? – Dave in Raleigh, NC

Dave –

I like Gado in the second RB spot. Thomas Jones returns from a number of injuries and may just cede short yardage carries to backup Adrian Peterson. Similarly, Marion Barber will continue to split the workload with Julius Jones in Dallas. As such, you need to run with the unopposed Gado against Minnesota. The Packers will put the ball in his hands 20-25 times on Monday night.

For your receiver slot, I'm going to recommend a bit of a gamble and suggest that you start Kevin Curtis. The Ravens defense isn't the same one that you're used to, but they're still formidable (provided that Kyle Boller and the offense don't leave them too many short fields to defend). I look for Pittsburgh to work all three of their running backs hard, and for the passing game and Hines Ward to be limited this week.

As for Curtis, the Cardinals-Rams game may be one of the shootouts of the week. I like Bulger for a huge game in this spot, and expect Curtis to still be an integral part of the passing attack despite the returns of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. After all, Joey Harrington dropped three passing touchdowns on the Cardinals' secondary a week ago. With the number of weapons at his disposal, Bulger stands to launch an all-out aerial assault this week.

Brett Favre against the weak Minnesota pass defense, or Matt Hasselbeck against the weaker 49ers defense? – John in Chicago, IL

John –
Though Hasselbeck may be more consistent in his production than Favre this season, he doesn't have the same need to produce a huge game with No. 37 (Shaun Alexander) in the backfield. I expect another huge day out of the record-setting back, contributing three touchdowns again this week. As such, Hasselbeck will effectively manage the offense, but won't be needed to contribute much more than 200 yards and a single TD pass.

As for Favre, he's at home on the national stage in a huge spot against a weak Minnesota defense. And, as difficult as it may be to believe, a win here coupled with a Chicago loss to Carolina, has the Packers eyeing the top of the NFC North (they still play Chicago twice). The Vikings allow 231 passing yards and nearly two touchdowns per game. With his receivers getting healthy and a steady RB in Samkon Gado, I look for Favre to put up big numbers on Monday night, going for 250 yards and dare I say, three TD strikes. He's your play this week.

Thanks to everyone again for your questions, comments, and suggestions. I truly appreciate the time you take to lay out your thoughts and help us to best understand the dilemmas you're facing.

Here's to another winning weekend on the quest to the playoffs.

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