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Cardinals to use starters in Week 17; Giants RB Jacobs a risk

Michael, your advice all season put me into the championship game, but I lost to DeAngelo Williams and his four touchdowns! Anyways, now I have to decide between Matt Forte and Michael Turner as a keeper for next season. This decision has me confused, because Forte looks like the real deal and he's just a rookie. Who should I keep? -- A. Hale, Cape Coral, Fla.

Michael Fabiano: Forte is a very attractive keeper, but Turner is the more valuable option. He's on pace to finish the season with close to 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he'll remain the centerpiece of a Falcons offense that's based on the run. The one concern I have with Turner is the high number of carries he's had in 2008. Based on his current numbers, Turner will finish with 374 attempts -- that would rank him 21st all-time for single-season carries. Of the eight backs who've finished with a similar number of carries (370-375), Earl Campbell (1980) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2002) were the lone backs not to experience a notable decrease in numbers the following season. I still see Turner as a better option than Forte, but this trend is one to consider in the re-draft when it's time to handcuff Turner with Jerious Norwood.

How do you rank players on a week-to-week basis? What criteria do you use to determine the best and worst options? I attempted to do that last week and I think I went a little cross-eyed! Thanks! -- J. Ransom, Auburn Hills, Mich.

2008 statistics:
Comp: 382

Att: 568

Yards: 4,320

TDs/INTs: 26/13

M.F.: I've gone cross-eyed more than a few times myself over the years doing fantasy player rankings! I take into consideration a player's value, his opponent, his health, whether he's at home or on the road, weather conditions, trends (ex. Willis McGahee owns the New York Jets) and his level of consistent (or inconsistent) production. I also factor in if a player has put up huge totals in his recent games. So when someone is hot, like DeAngelo William for example, I'll rate him a bit higher at his position. Since I don't have a crystal ball and don't claim to be a fortune teller, I'll almost always advise people to stick with their stars in most cases. In the case of players at the same position with similar value, I'll side with the one with the better matchup. So if you had to choose between David Garrard at Baltimore or Jeff Garcia at home against the Raiders, I'd side with the latter. There's no exact science to the process, but the rankings can be a useful tool when it comes time to make those tough lineup decisions.

I somehow survived last week with Kurt Warner (thanks to DeAngelo Williams and an opponent who started Thomas Jones and Andre Johnson), but now I'm worried that he'll be limited once again. What the latest on the situation in Arizona? -- C. Paulson, Anniston, Ala.

M.F.: Luckily, it looks like Warner, Anquan Boldin and most of the Cardinals starters will play this week against the Seahawks. Coach Ken Whisenhunt indicated Monday that he will "treat this as a playoff game, within reason," as he tries to gain some positive momentum heading into the postseason after his team's horrible performance last week against the Patriots. Based on a matchup against the Seahawks and their 32nd-ranked pass defense, it appears safe to start Warner, Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Week 17.

I'm in the championship game this week and need to start either Peyton Manning or Brett Favre. I'm worried that Manning either won't play or will be limited to a few series against the Titans, but Favre has been awful. What do I do? -- P. Sanchez, Corpus Christi, Texas

M.F.: Guys, this is the reason you should end your season in Week 16. With the No. 5 seed in the AFC locked up, Colts coach Tony Dungy is almost certain to sit the vast majority of his starters. That means Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark are all risks. In fact, Manning has seen 16 or fewer pass attempts in four of his last five regular-season finales. With Addai and Harrison both at less than 100 percent, I'd be shocked to see either in action. The same holds true for Dominic Rhodes, who could be limited or rested altogether due to sore ribs. That means Chad Simpson would see most of the carries against the Titans. With your league's title on the line, you have to be safe and start Favre despite his awful numbers in recent weeks. At least he's guaranteed to start and see a full game's work against the Dolphins.

I need a sleeper running back for this week -- I'm afraid Joseph Addai and Chris Johnson will both be rested with their teams' seed already set for the postseason. Help me please! -- L. Tibaldei, Gilbert, Ariz.

M.F.: First off, I'd keep tabs on the status of Marshawn Lynch. He injured his shoulder last week in Denver, so Fred Jackson could have some added value. LaMont Jordan and Kevin Faulk have been solid for the Patriots, and both could be available on the waiver wire. The same holds true for Tashard Choice, who has recorded an amazing 424 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in games against the Steelers, Giants and Ravens. Cedric Benson has had 332 yards from scrimmage over the last two weeks, and he has a great matchup against the Chiefs. I'd also consider Maurice Morris, who faces a Cardinals defense that's allowed an average of 170 yards in their last three contests.

What sort of value will Tom Brady have next season? Do you see him as a top-five fantasy quarterback, or has he fallen from that elite level? -- P. McMahon, Quincy, Mass.

M.F.: It's far too soon to know if Brady will return to an elite level next season. There's been no word on his status after reconstructive knee surgery, and knowing coach Bill Belichick, information will be hard to find throughout the offseason. In a best-case scenario, Brady will be one of the first five quarterbacks selected in all 2009 drafts. But as it stands now, I see Drew Brees as the top option with Brady, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner also at that elite level.

I have to decide between Donovan McNabb and Philip Rivers in a keeper league. Who should I choose? Also, what do you predict for Tyler Thigpen next season? Thanks! -- T. Lake, Canada

M.F.: Will McNabb even be a member of the Philadelphia Eagles next season? Regardless, I'd side with Rivers as the better of these two quarterbacks. He's on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards, and his 32 touchdown passes are the most in the league. He's also younger than McNabb, who turns 33 next November. As for Thigpen, he's no lock to even be the Chiefs' top quarterback next season. Reports out of Kansas City suggest that the team could still use their first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on a quarterback. His numbers have been attractive in fantasy land, but Thigpen turns the ball over a ton and has led his team to one win in 11 starts. We might like his numbers, but the Chiefs can't be happy with his lack of success where it counts the most -- in the wins column. As a result, Thigpen's value for next season is very much in a state of flux.

What sort of keeper value does Kevin Smith have in fantasy football? I was able to retain Ryan Grant after last season, but he's been inconsistent overall. Should I do the unthinkable and keep a member of the Detroit Lions not named Calvin Johnson? - N. Sims, Janesville, Wis.

M.F.: Despite the fact that he's missed some time to injuries and lost carries to Rudi Johnson in a few games, Smith has still produced 36 catches, 1,163 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns for a team that hasn't won once. With a slew of drafts picks and Matt Millen out of the picture, one would think that the Lions will be a much-improved team in 2009. That bodes well for Smith, who should be one of the offensive centerpieces. Based on reports that the Packers front office is divided on whether or not Grant is a long-term option at running back, I'd retain Smith for next season.

I have Brandon Jacobs in a league that compiles points during the regular season (and into Week 17) to determine a champion. Jacobs had a monster game for me on Sunday night, but will he be rested this week now that the Giants have clinched the top seed in the NFC? -- F. Jonesson, Santa Barbara, Calif.

M.F.:Giants coach Tom Coughlin has yet to announce how he'll approach the final regular season game against the Vikings, but Jacobs is a true question mark. He's dealing with sprains in both knees and would be better off getting some rest before the G-Men make their run at a second title. What's more, Derrick Ward could see more of the workload, as he needs just 52 yards to rush for 1,000 yards this season. If he accomplishes that feat, it would be the first time since 1985 that a team has had two 1,000-yard running backs. Jacobs is already over the 1,000-yard mark, and he did it in just 13 games. The last team to do it was the Cleveland Browns (Earnest Byner, Kevin Mack). The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers (Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier) and the 1972 Miami Dolphins (Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris) are the only other teams to have reached that mark.

I'm an enormous Jets fan and was thrilled to land Thomas Jones in our 12-team keeper league. Now that the season is over, I need to retain two running backs from Frank Gore, Jones, Darren McFadden and Steve Slaton. Who should I retain? -- C. Foley, Queens, N.Y.

M.F.: Jones has been a fantasy superstar this season, but at the age of 30 he has a bit less value in keeper leagues. In fact, I'd keep Gore and Slaton and throw Jones and McFadden back into the pool of available players for 2009.

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