Fantasy mailbag: Merriman out for Week 15

Hey Mike, should I start San Diego's defense in Week 15 even with Shawne Merriman out? I can add Arizona or Denver. Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, N.Y. Jets, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington are also available. Thanks! -- B. Calvey, Virginia Beach, Va.

Michael Fabiano: None of the available options you've mentioned seem too attractive, so I'd stick with the Merriman-less San Diego defense. The Bolts do have an attractive matchup against a Detroit offense that allowed a ton of sacks, which is a positive with or without Merriman on the field. The Lions could also be demoralized after a last-minute loss to Dallas that crippled their postseason chances, so the momentum should be with the Bolts on their home field in this interconference clash.

Carson Palmer has fallen apart over the past two weeks, so should I sit him in Week 15 and start Philip Rivers? -- C. King, N/A

M.F.: Palmer has been brutal in starts against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, but the weather was awful in both contests. Rain and wind were an obvious issue, and Palmer had less-than-attractive stat lines as a result. The Cincinnati quarterback has a favorable matchup on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NFL Network) against what can be a vulnerable San Francisco defense, and the weather calls for just a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Rivers, who is expected to start against Detroit despite an injured knee, has six touchdown passes in his past three starts but has been inconsistent overall, so I'd stick with Palmer this week.

I need to start three players from Joseph Addai, Earnest Graham, Travis Henry, Edgerrin James, Thomas Jones and Selvin Young. Also, which defense should I start: Dallas, San Diego or Seattle? -- M. Milner, Pensacola, Fla.

M.F.: Addai and Graham are must-start backs regardless of the opponent, so the decision boils down to Henry, James, Jones and Young. I'd avoid Jones based on his matchup in New England and take a chance on Young. He started and outrushed Henry in last week's win over Kansas City, and this week he faces a Houston defense on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NFL Network) that ranks 23rd against the run. James might be a safer option if you'd rather not risk the wrath of Mike Shanahan, but he has one touchdown in his past five starts and has one 100-yard performance since Week 2.

What is the status of Marvin Harrison? I feel like the Indianapolis Colts weren't honest about his status to this point. Will he ever return this season? -- F. Olsen, Lafayette, La.

M.F.: Harrison, who had missed six starts in his career before this season, was inactive for his eighth consecutive contest in Week 14. He has done some limited work in practice in recent weeks, but it seems the Colts will not use him this weekend in Oakland. This is pure speculation, but the team has a two-game lead on Pittsburgh for the No. 2 seed in the AFC and faces the Raiders and Houston over the next two weeks. That makes me think Harrison will be sidelined until (at the very least) the regular-season finale against Tennessee. If the knee is still a concern and the Colts feel he's at least in close to playing shape, Harrison could be out until the second round of the postseason (if the team earns a bye). Overall, I'd be shocked to see him make an appearance, no less an impact, in the fantasy football postseason.

It looks like I'll be without Reggie Bush for Week 15, so I'm desperate to add a running back in our 12-team league. Help! -- L. Drummond, Redondo Beach, Calif.

M.F.: Here are a few runners that could be on the waiver wire: Samkon Gado, who scored twice in a loss to Buffalo last week and could start in Week 15 if Jesse Chatman remains out of action; Darius Walker, who will see more work on Thursday night with Ahman Green out for the season and Ron Dayne in question with an injured ankle; Maurice Morris, who is now in a backfield committee with Shaun Alexander in Seattle; Fred Jackson, who has recorded consecutive solid stat lines and will see his share of carries at Cleveland even with Marshawn Lynch back in the mix; Aaron Stecker, who will be the featured back in New Orleans while Reggie Bush is out of action due to an injured knee.

Which two running backs should I start in Week 15: Ryan Grant, Rudi Johnson, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson or Fred Taylor? -- L. Van George, Little Rock, Ark.

M.F.: Peterson was brutal in last week's win over San Francisco, but I think he's still a must-start back against a Chicago defense that ranks 25th against the run. The second back to start is Grant, who has been phenomenal in recent weeks and faces a St. Louis defense that ranks 21st against the run and has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns.

Which quarterback should I start from Derek Anderson, David Garrard and Jeff Garcia? -- T. Jensen, Tuscan, Ariz.

M.F.: Garrard has been solid in recent weeks and Garcia will return from an injured back to face a vulnerable Atlanta defense, but I think it's almost impossible to sit Anderson. Sure, he isn't named Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but Anderson has been darn solid for fantasy football owners this season. In fact, he's fourth in points on NFL.com, ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck. Anderson also has a favorable matchup at home against Buffalo, so I'd stick with him in Week 15.

I'm out of the postseason race in our league, so I'm already thinking about next season. I know Tom Brady will be the top-rated player in fantasy football drafts, but who do you think will be the second quarterback taken between Peyton Manning and Tony Romo? -- K. Gaston, St. Paul, Minn.

M.F.: This choice all depends on the status of Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. He'll be one of the hottest commodities on the market in the offseason, and his possible departure would make me side with Manning. The Colts quarterback has had some down weeks, but he's third in points overall on NFL.com and he's done it without Marvin Harrison for most of the season. Should the Polks somehow retain the services of Garrett into next season, then I would have to side with Jessica Simpson's main squeeze.

I need to start three wide receivers from Arnaz Battle, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Chad Johnson, Torry Holt and Reggie Williams. I am sick of Ocho Stinko this season, but do I dare reserve him? -- B. Daldron, Philadelphia, Pa.

M.F.: You might be sick of Ocho Stinko, but I'd still have to start him on Saturday night in San Francisco. I also think Jennings, who has more fantasy points on NFL.com in the past three weeks than all other wideouts, has to be considered a must-start option. That leaves the third choice between Battle, Bowe, Holt and Williams. I realize the loss of Marc Bulger hurts and the Rams face a tough Green Bay defense, but I'd still take a chance on Holt. Battle, Bowe and Williams simply aren't on his level even with the potential for Brock Berlin to start, so stick with the St. Louis wideout.

I realize kickers aren't too important in most leagues, but Adam Vinatieri has been bad in recent weeks and I'm about to make a move. Should I release him for a lesser-known kicker with a better matchup? -- S. Maxwell, Boulder, Colo.

M.F.: Kickers are important! Just ask fantasy football owners who had Jay Feely or Neil Rackers in 2005. To be honest, I would have cut ties with Vinatieri long ago. I find that some owners stick with a kicker because of his name and fail to look at his production (or lack thereof in this case). Vinatieri is 15th in fantasy points among kickers on NFL.com, and I bet better options like Robbie Gould, Phil Dawson and Sebastian Janikowski are still available. So to answer your question, yes, I would pink slip Vinatieri and add a more productive kicker.

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