It's tough to bench Foster in the NFL Playoff Challenge

Should I keep Arian Foster active in the NFL Playoff Challenge this week and receive double points (I started him in the wild card round), or should I go in another direction? -- @alannwillis(via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: I don't like the Texans to beat the Ravens this weekend, but how can you pass on the chance to get double points from one of the elite running backs in fantasy football? I don't think he'll post the same staggering numbers he did in last week's win over the Bengals, but Foster is still a good bet to produce over 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown as the centerpiece of Houston's offense. Also, if the Texans are somehow able to beat Baltimore this weekend, Foster would be eligible to receive triple points in the conference round.

Since there are so many good quarterbacks around the league, would it still make sense to draft a running back in the first round in 2012? -- D. Zavala (via Facebook)

M.F.: The answer to that question all depends on your draft position. If I land one of the first three picks, I'll be going after Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy. Maurice Jones-Drew belongs in that conversation as well, but I think Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will be taken ahead of "Pocket Hercules" in most leagues. Here's the reason more quarterbacks are going to be drafted in the first two rounds -- outside of those four backs, the position has become far more difficult to predict. Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Rashard Mendenhall will be coming off major knee reconstruction. Matt Forte also finished with a bum knee, and the loss of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz could hurt his value. Chris Johnson had his worst fantasy season in 2011, so his stock has taken a hit. Frank Gore, Fred Jackson, Steven Jackson and Michael Turner aren't getting any younger, while the likes of Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are risk-reward runners due to their proneness to injuries. See a trend here? There are no more than four sure bets at running back, and I can't advise someone to take a chance at the position ahead of one of the star quarterbacks who are virtual locks to put up huge numbers.

Would you draft Cam Newton in the first round next season? -- @xermi(via Twitter)

M.F.: Newton is coming off one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, throwing for 4,051 yards, rushing for another 706 yards and scoring a combined 35 touchdowns. The question that we have to ask ourselves now is, can Newton do it again? Also, is it realistic for him to rush for another 14 touchdowns in 2012? I would argue that it's not. That's not to suggest that he's a one-hit wonder, because his versatile skill set makes Newton a major weapon in fantasy land. But you need to temper expectations. Remember all the talk of Michael Vick being worth a first-round pick in 2011 after his ridiculous 2010 numbers? We all know how that turned out. So will Newton be drafted in Round 1 in a ton of leagues? No doubt about it. Would I take him there? Maybe late in the round, but statistical regression concerns me.

Should I replace Victor Cruz for Jordy Nelson or Wes Welker in the NFL Playoff Challenge? -- F.N. Camargo (via Facebook)

M.F.: I'm assuming that Cruz was in your lineup last week, which means you'll receive double points from him in the divisional round. The question you have to ask yourself is this -- do you think the Giants have a real chance to beat the Packers on the road? If so, I'd keep Cruz active. But if you're not sold on New York's chances and believe the Packers will advance, then going with Nelson or Welker is the best bet. I started the latter in my personal lineup, as I think the Patriots have the best shot to reach the conference round based on a matchup against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. As much as I've been a huge fan of Tebow in the fantasy world, I question whether he'll have enough magic left to beat the Patriots on the road.

I need to keep two players from Matt Stafford, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and Greg Jennings. Thoughts? -- @steve_sinclair (via Twitter)

M.F.: All four players are legitimate keeper options, but Stafford and McCoy are the players to retain. I think the Lions quarterback is the real deal (you don't throw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns as a one-hit wonder), and the fact that he's just 23 makes him a valuable asset in keeper leagues. McCoy, who finished second in fantasy points among running backs despite not playing in Week 17, is also no flash in the pan. The versatile runner has all the tools to remain a fantasy monster for years to come. And like Stafford, McCoy is just 23 years old.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and need to retain two players, but I lose the round those players were drafted. Here are my top options: Adrian Peterson (Round 1), Jamaal Charles (Round 1), Calvin Johnson (Round 2), Stafford (Round 6) and Darren Sproles (Round 15). I won the league this season, so I have the last pick in Round 1. -- J. Maguire (via Facebook)

M.F.:Megatron is a no-brainer out of this group, but you really can't make a final decision on your second keeper until we get further into the offseason. Peterson is a question mark coming off an ACL operation, and I have major concerns about him being the same productive superstar he was before the ailment. Charles is also coming off knee surgery, though he did tell me on Twitter that his rehab is going well -- he even said he'll come back "stronger and faster." On the flip side, Stafford and Sproles are great bargains based on the round you would lose. If I had to make a final decision now, I would retain the Lions duo of Stafford and Johnson. But again, there's a lot of time between now and the start of next season so things could change.

What sort of value will Demaryius Thomas have in 2012? -- @brutalBLT(via Twitter)

M.F.: Remember how I hyped up Stafford before the start of last season? Well, I'm going to do the same with Thomas heading into 2012. As long as the Georgia Tech product can avoid injuries, he's going to have a huge statistical season for the Broncos and fantasy owners alike. He's shown major flashes of brilliance, posting 100-plus yards three times and a combined four touchdowns in his last six games (including the postseason). If you project the numbers he's posted in those contests over a full season, Thomas would be on pace to finish with over 1,700 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Also, the fact that he'll be entering his third NFL season, which has been a breakout year for plenty of wideouts in the past, makes Thomas even more attractive. As it stands, I see him as a No. 2 fantasy receiver with major upside.

The 49ers have a terrific defense against the run, but how does this unit do against the pass? Should we start the Saints studs like Drew Brees, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham? -- N. Chehab (via Facebook)

M.F.: The Niners defense has been tough across the board, allowing an average of just 13.10 fantasy points to quarterbacks and an NFL-low 10.95 points to running backs. Of course, not every signal-caller is as good as Brees, and not every offense is as potent as the Saints. Also, keep in mind that other quarterbacks like Tony Romo (345 yards), Stafford (293 yards), Eli Manning (311 yards) and Ben Roethlisberger (330 yards) were all able to put up attractive yardage totals against their defense this season. I've been on the New Orleans bandwagon ever since the playoffs began, and a tough matchup isn't going to change my outlook. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Brees, Colston and Graham all posted nice numbers in a game that could be more of a barnburner than expected.

If you had to keep one wide receiver between Victor Cruz and Julio Jones, who would you retain? Either would cost me a sixth-round pick in 2012. -- @RFed33 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Call me crazy, but I'd keep Jones. Yes, I know Cruz posted 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns and the fourth-most fantasy points among wide receivers in 2011. But do you really think he's going to be that good again next season? I doubt it -- call me a skeptic, but I've seen what I like to call "The Curse of the Magical Season" strike down the value of more than one player over the years. Do I think Cruz will be a complete bust? No, but I do believe you have to temper your expectations. On the flip side, Jones has all the tools to be better than Cruz in 2012. Keep this in mind -- if you project his numbers from 13 games as a rookie over a full season, Jones would have posted close to 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. And again, that's as a rookie! While I do prefer Cruz in standard leagues, Jones' youth and upside makes him the better keeper option.

I'm in a standard 12-team league and need to keep two players from Murray, Turner, Kenny Britt, Jordy Nelson or Nicks. I'm thinking of keeping Nelson. -- D. Geiger (via Facebook)

M.F.: Lots of question marks here. All things being equal, I would keep Murray and Britt. However, both players are coming off injuries that leave their value in a bit of question. Turner is going to be atop my list of potential fantasy busts in 2012 due to his age and workload over the last four years, so I'm removing him from the equation. On a positive note, Nelson and Nicks are both young wideouts who have proven their worth in fantasy land. If I had to make a decision right now, I would retain that duo of receivers. But if news of Murray's recovery from a fractured ankle is positive as we get deep into the offseason, I would side with the Cowboys running back.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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