Mike's Mailbag: Snake Eyes for Jake

Mike Harmon
Yahoo! Sports

We are going global in this week's edition of the mailbag. Owners from Tampa to Baghdad, Iraq are looking for some input on tough lineup decisions in what serves as the regular season finale for many leagues.

Injuries and committees in the backfield have caused nightmares for fantasy owners all season long, and this week's slate is no different. To Gado, or not to Gado? What about Julius Jones, Willis McGahee, and DeShaun Foster? An amazing number of owners wrote in to discuss situations dealing with these players in a number of combinations, as you'll soon see.

We'll look at these quandaries, in addition to examining whether Brett Favre can continue his dominance over the Bears, as we prepare for Week 13.

Let's read some mail.

I need a win this week to make the playoffs. I have to decide between Kurt Warner and Brad Johnson (Warner's in for now because of his matchup). What should I do? – Jay in Pennsylvania

Jay –
Johnson is certainly on a roll for the Vikings, having won four in a row, and playing a Detroit team at the end of a very difficult stretch. However, you're not guaranteed solid fantasy numbers to go with the potential "W." He's gone scoreless in two of those four contests while topping 200 passing yards only once. Granted, the Lions defense presents more opportunities for making plays, but they are also very good at forcing errors (28 takeaways). I think he'll put in a serviceable day, but looking for the playoffs, you've got to go for the jugular.

That means a start for Warner against the 49ers. Warner has thrown for 285 or more passing yards in four straight games while throwing seven TDs against four INTs during that stretch. I was on the fence after the first couple of those outings, but his performance against the Jaguars sold me on him as a start call this week. Larry Fitzgerald continues to display his talents and dominance in the red zone. Anquan Boldin catches everything thrown in his direction, and Bryant Johnson offers the deep threat to stretch the field. Warner has thrown 39 or more passes in every game he's finished. That's a ridiculous number of passes. Against the bottom-ranked 49ers pass defense (281 yards per game, 64.8% completion percentage, and 21 TDs allowed), expect more of the same – near to 300 yards with two or three TDs.

Hey Mike, RB question – standard 10 yd/pt, 6 for TDs. Which one RB would you start: Julius Jones, Marion Barber, Tatum Bell, Samkon Gado, J.J. Arrington? I've got Larry Johnson penciled in and I need one more. Every day I look at it I think a different guy looks like the "best" play. Any thoughts? – Mike in Tampa, FL

Mike –
I would narrow this field to two (Jones and Arrington) and then make the call from there. I rule out Barber, Bell, and Gado. Here's why.

Julius Jones is back as near to full strength as he will be, and Bill Parcells has shown a willingness to pour on the carries to his young star in the past (most carries in the second-half of the '04 season). Barber saw his workload reduced in the Thanksgiving Day game and figures to take a backseat to Jones once again. He'll still get 8-10 carries to spell Jones, but I'm not convinced that he'll get the call around the goal line.

I eliminate Bell based on his injury and the emergence of Ron Dayne. Mike Shanahan has intimated that there will be a three-headed attack with Bell, Dayne, and Mike Anderson splitting the workload. Even with his breakaway ability, I'm fearful of the bruised chest remaining a factor and limiting his production.

And then there's Gado. He faces a Bears defense that has been absolutely brilliant at home. They've allowed only 92 yards per game and three touchdowns on the ground. With an eye on moving closer to the NFC North title and getting the monkey off their back (the Packers have won 11 in a row at Soldier Field), the Bears defense will be at their best in the cold and wind at home.

That leaves us with Julius Jones for the reasons I stated above, and J.J. Arrington, who will play this week without Marcel Shipp pilfering carries. Arrington has made great strides in the last several weeks and is starting to look like an NFL back. I like him to put up season-highs in yardage and to find the end zone this week against San Francisco.

I'm in a 14-team league and in need of a QB for the playoffs. I've got Mike McMahon and Chris Simms, but would Gus Frerotte or Ryan Fitzpatrick be better plays? I've no idea anymore! – Dave in Chicago, IL

Dave –
You've definitely got tough calls all around in this quartet. I'm intrigued by the emotion and passion that the Eagles will bring to the table on Monday against Seattle (retirement of Reggie White's number), but it's tough to expect too much out of Mike McMahon. I expect more running from Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats, and for the Eagles to slow things down. I rule him out.

Chris Simms hasn't done anything the past two weeks after that big breakout game against the Redskins. He's thrown zero touchdowns in two straight games. Simms may get a couple red zone shots if Carnell Williams can dominate the Saints run defense, but I'm not convinced that he'll give you any more than 175 yards and a score. He's off the list, too.

The Bills give up 176 yards per game and just over a touchdown via the air, but their run defense remains among the league's worst. I look for huge workloads for Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown this week. So, toss Frerotte.

That leaves us with the young rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Washington team that Simms tossed three TDs against. The Rams should be able to get a solid performance out of the running game with Steven Jackson, much as Washington did with Clinton Portis in that Week 10 contest. Given the ample receiving weapons at his disposal and the fact that St. Louis will give up points (you know the horrific pass defense stats by now), Fitzpatrick will need to throw often. He'll make a few mistakes and probably toss one or two interceptions, but in the end, he's your best bet of this lot to put up a multi-TD day.

I have Rudi Johnson, Mewelde Moore, and DeShaun Foster for my RBs. Which two are the smart plays? – Robert in Spearman, TX

Robert –
While Moore has a solid matchup on tap against the Lions, it's by no means a gimme. The Lions have allowed 123 yards per game on the ground, but just seven total touchdowns. Coming out of the Steve Mariucci debacle of the past week, I look for the Lions to bring their "A" game on all fronts and for Moore to struggle. He's always good for one or two longer runs (runs of 14 or more yards in seven of nine games played), but unless you're receiving bonus points for those particular plays, I'd look elsewhere.

Though he is downgraded slightly from his normal lofty perch due to a matchup against the Steelers, Rudi Johnson needs to stay in your lineup. He's run for 65 or more yards in every game this season (the 65-yard effort came against the Steelers), but his recent TD outburst (five over three games) makes him an automatic among this trio.

In the other slot, I like Foster. I expect more touches for Stephen Davis this week, but Foster should be able to find running room against the Falcons (115 yards allowed per game). Foster's ability as a receiver also makes him a solid threat and the No. 2 back in your lineup. He's more involved in the offense, and I look for the Panthers to open things up and break out of their scoring doldrums.

Mike, should I start Jake Plummer (at KC) or Brett Favre (at Chicago) this week? Or should I look for another, less risky option (any suggestions?) this weekend? – Tara in Lynchburg, VA

Tara –
I'm not thrilled with either Plummer or Favre this week, as both face tough road matchups. Plummer goes against a Chiefs D that looks enticing on paper (240 passing yards and 1.73 TDs per game), but plays well at home. The Chiefs have won 15 straight home games in December and have played better ball of late on defense (four picks of Tom Brady a week ago). Kansas City is strong against the run, and that'll allow the defensive line led by Jared Allen to get after Plummer. The streak of interception-less games is over, and a new streak begins with multiple turnovers this week in KC.

As for Favre, he'll have a rough day in the cold and windy conditions against the top-ranked Bears defense. His dominance over the Bears is a thing of the past, and his performances the past five weeks are difficult to overlook. Favre has thrown multiple TD passes in only one of his past five games, and hasn't found any consistency in the receiving corps behind Donald Driver. I believe his era of dominance over the Bears ends this week.

There are better matchups out there, including Kurt Warner against San Francisco, Mark Brunell against the Rams, Steve McNair playing catch up to the Colts, and perhaps dark horses in David Carr and Kyle Boller in the Baltimore-Houston matchup, or Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Redskins.

I have four running backs that I want to start in Week 13. Shaun Alexander is a given but I also have Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, and DeShaun Foster. Who would be the best two to start? – Jamie in Baghdad, Iraq

Jamie –
I'm looking at Jamal Lewis to have another huge game this week to follow up his first 100-yard day this year against the Bengals in Week 12. Yes, the Bengals built a big lead, but all stats count until the final gun sounds. Here, it's just a matter of how bad the Houston run defense is. Houston linebacker Antwan Peek said it best – "if you don't run on us, you should be fired." (short version) Chester Taylor is still questionable for this week, and Brian Billick is loyal to the veteran Lewis. I believe he puts up his second straight 100-yard day, and finds the end zone against the Texans.

For the other start, I'm looking at Thomas Jones. I love the matchup of the Panthers against the Falcons, but I believe that John Fox will work Stephen Davis back into the mix. As I said earlier, Foster should perform well this week, and I think he's a fine play, but Jones is just a touch better.

Jones is the unquestioned starter in Chicago, and the emergence of Adrian Peterson as a decent change of pace back keeps defenses off-balanced, even without much assistance from the passing game. Jones has handled the ball 17 or more times in nine of the 10 games in which he has appeared. It's been five games since he last found the end zone. I believe you see another game with 100 total yards and for the scoreless streak to end.

Should I start Willis McGahee, who hasn't been performing, or Carnell Williams against the Saints? – Brian in Cottage Grove, MN

Brian –
You're in a good spot with these options, as both have favorable matchups on the slate. Of the two, I'd look to McGahee to break out of his five-game scoreless skid against the Dolphins. He ran for 86 yards and a score in their first meetings, and has been challenged by Mike Mularkey to live up to the hype he created. "The league's best back" returns to the good graces of fantasy owners this week against a Miami run D that allowed 121 yards per game.

I need to fill in my two RBs and here's who I have: Samkon Gado, DeShaun Foster, Julius Jones, Marion Barber, Fred Taylor and Greg Jones. Who in the heck do I plug in? Please, oh master of the virtual gridiron, help my team! – Daren in Kennebunkport, Maine

Daren -
Master of the virtual gridiron … I'm thinking I need new business cards. Thank you.

As for your RB quandary, I'd stay away from the Jacksonville duo. The "probable" tag on Fred Taylor leads me to believe that he'll actually see action this week (as opposed to last week when he was probable and sat out). And, given his history, he could drop out after a quarter or a half. That's not a situation you need as the playoffs loom. Even though the matchup is favorable against the Browns, the likely split of duties before it's said and done keeps them on the bench.

I've already addressed the other backs in a previous response, so you're left with Jones and Foster. I believe both to be solid plays in their respective matchups and decent bets to find the end zone this week.

This is the final week of the regular season in my league, and I have to win in order to reach the playoffs. Who should I start as No.2 RB: Ronnie Brown, T.J. Duckett or DeShaun Foster? Duckett has the best chance to score and do well, but both Foster and Brown have decent matchups. What do you think? – Milos in Belgrade, Serbia

Milos –
While Duckett has the greatest chance to find the end zone due to his vulture status, I'm a bit concerned that the top-ranked Atlanta run offense will struggle against the top-ranked Carolina defense. I believe that the yards will be more hard-fought than in weeks past, and despite a heavier workload in recent weeks, that it will be difficult for him to repeat those successes.

I'd turn to Ronnie Brown over DeShaun Foster for your second starter. Brown and Ricky Williams pose a formidable threat to the terrible Buffalo run defense (146 yards per game and 15 total TDs allowed), and Nick Saban will work them hard. Brown's recent bout of fumblitis is problematic, and there's a good shot that Williams will pilfer goal-lines touches for the near term, but Brown consistently racks up Touches. Neither Foster nor Duckett turns in such a heavy workload on a weekly basis.

Thanks for your support and your multitude of questions and comments this week and all season long. I enjoy reading them and keeping my hand on the pulse of the game. Good luck this weekend!

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