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Portis should bounce back vs. Bengals; Barber still a question mark

I need to start two running backs from Thomas Jones, Clinton Portis, Jonathan Stewart and Michael Turner. I'm worried about Portis and his injuries, and Turner could be held down since the Buccaneers will be motivated to rebound from Monday night. Should I start Jones and Stewart? -- J. Antonich, Northern California

Michael Fabiano: Regardless of the opponent, Turner should be active whenever he plays at the Georgia Dome. In six games at home, he has rushed for 672 yards and 12 touchdowns. I'd also start Portis ahead of Jones and Stewart. That might be a shocking statement considering how bad Portis has been in recent weeks, but it's hard to ignore a game against the Bengals and their 23rd-ranked run defense. Portis was rested for most of the second half against the Ravens, so he should be in better physical shape.

What's more, Redskins coach Jim Zorn hinted on a D.C. radio show that Portis will see a greater workload out of the backfield in Week 15. "I'm looking forward to having Portis] out there on every snap, practicing [and] getting ready for the [Cincinnati Bengals so we can use him as our every-down back," Zorn said.

Which two running backs should I start from Joseph Addai, Ryan Grant and Steve Slaton? -- B. Fleury, San Diego, Calif.

2008 statistics:
Carries: 154

Yards: 540

Average: 3.5

TDs: 5

M.F.: I think Grant is the best option of the trio because he faces a Jaguars defense that has been mediocre against the run this season. Addai has a great matchup against the Lions, but he had a favorable one last week against the Bengals and was held to three fantasy points. What's more, reports indicate he could miss this week's game with an injured shoulder. On the other hand, Slaton has scored 57 points (19 points per game) in that time. Sure, the rookie has a tough matchup against the Titans, but their defense has surrendered 12 rushing touchdowns.

What's the status of Marion Barber this week? If he's active against the Giants, should I start him ahead of LenDale White? -- J. Cohn, Atlanta, Ga.

M.F.: There has been no definitive word on whether or not Barber will return to face the Giants. What we do know is that he missed last week's game in Pittsburgh due to an injured calf and not a dislocated toe. In an attempt to compensate for the toe, Barber apparently developed the calf ailment. The best course of action is to monitor his status throughout the week. But as it stands, I'd start White ahead of Barber. The USC product has scored four touchdowns in his last three games against the Texans.

Which quarterback should I start from Matt Cassel, Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan? -- S. Jimenez, Kingsville, Texas

M.F.: This is a tough call, but I'd start McNabb over Cassel and Ryan based on the matchups. Cassel will face the Raiders and their ninth-ranked pass defense, while Ryan goes against a Buccaneers defense that's fourth against the pass. The rookie also has thrown just five touchdown passes in six home games, due in large part to RB Michael Turner's success at the Georgia Dome. McNabb faces a Browns defense that's 15th against the pass and allowing 249.9 passing yards per game on their home field.

Now that the Cardinals have clinched the NFC West, do you expect Ken Whisenhunt to sit Kurt Warner and some of his other starters? -- K. Patel, Columbus, Ohio

M.F.: I wouldn't be concerned about the Cardinals sitting Warner or Larry Fitzgerald against the Vikings because the team has a shot at a first-round playoff bye. If Arizona can't improve its seeding with a win in Week 16, however, there's a chance that Whisenhunt could rest a few of his stars. That sort of scenario has affected the fantasy value of players such as Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning in the past, and their playing time was reduced in Week 16. Of course, that thought process could change after the Giants went all out in last season's finale against the Patriots and went on to beat them in Super Bowl XLII.

Great call on Pierre Thomas last week! I started him ahead of Willie Parker and won my first-round game because of the move. Of course, benching Brian Westbrook for Joseph Addai hurt, but I guess you can't win 'em all! Anyways, which two of these four backs do I start this week? -- W. Slaussen, Roanoke, Va.

M.F.: Thomas did post nice numbers against the Falcons, but ranking Westbrook as a No. 2 fantasy back based on a matchup in New York didn't work out too well. But like you said, you can't win 'em all. Sometimes the matchups work, and sometimes a top-rated run defense allows 203 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns to a running back. I'm sure I don't need to tell you to start Westbrook this week against the Browns, who rank an awful 28th against the run. I'd also ride the hot hand and start Thomas against the Bears on Thursday night. He's averaged 18.7 fantasy points in his last four games (compared to Addai's 10.5), and weather conditions in Chicago could be extremely condusive to running the football.

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I feel your pain with Antonio Bryant. I was ahead by 30 points going into Monday night, and he scored 32 against me! OK, so now that my season is over, I'm looking ahead to next season. Can you rank the top five running backs for 2009 (as you see them now)? Thanks! - M. Krueger, England

M.F.: It's hard to make an accurate prediction on next season because of the NFL Draft, free-agent movement, strengh of schedule, etc. However, it's hard to envision a scenario where Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner aren't in the top five among running backs. The rest of the backs who will be ranked in a prominent fashion include Marion Barber, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook and DeAngelo Williams. Notice the absence of LaDainian Tomlinson? Well, I see him as more of a late first-round or early second-round selection. One thing is for sure -- running backs will once again rule in the first two to three rounds of all 2009 fantasy football drafts.

I benched LaDainian Tomlinson for Chris Johnson last week, and the move worked out well. I know Johnson has a good matchup coming up against the Texans, but L.T. faces the Chiefs. Should I bench the rookie in my favor of the No. 1 overall pick (sounds weird, huh)? -- W. Drake, Cedar Falls, Iowa

M.F.: Again, it's all about trust during the fantasy playoffs. Tomlinson has scored a touchdown in consecutive weeks, but his yardage totals haven't been impressive. L.T. also failed to do much against the Chiefs back in Week 10, rushing for 78 yards and no touchdowns. Johnson is back on track after a three-week slide in November, rushing for a solid 261 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. There's no way I'm putting this kid on my bench against the Texans and their 24th-ranked run defense.

What is the deal with Larry Johnson? Even against the Broncos, he can't do a thing! I still won last week despite his terrible performance, but now I'm up faces with the same dilemna. Do I start L.J. ahead of Jamal Lewis or Sammy Morris -- C. Braddock, Aberdeen, Idaho

M.F.: The deal with Johnson is that the Chiefs went in a different offensive direction while he was out of action due to off-field issues. The emergence of Tyler Thigpen, coupled with the absence of L.J., turned this into a pass-laden offense. That's the reason the numbers of Thigpen and Tony Gonzalez have risen while Johnson's stat lines have taken a fall. Unless the team decides to turn back to Johnson as its offensive centerpiece (which is unlikely), I'd expect the veteran to be inconsistent at best down the stretch. In fact, I'd sit him in favor of Morris this week. The Patriots' back is a nice option against the Raiders and their 30th-ranked run defense.

I'm in a PPR league and need to start either John Carlson or Zach Miller. Advice? Also, should I start Bernard Berrian, Anthony Gonzalez or Frank Gore at my flex spot? -- T. Gardner, Pittsburgh, Pa.

M.F.: Carlson has been too good to sit over the last two weeks, catching 14 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown. He now ranks fifth in fantasy points among tight ends on (ahead of Chris Cooley), so don't be afraid to start him in the fantasy playoffs. He has a great matchup against the Rams and their 29th-ranked total defense. Gore is the best flex option if he's available, but an ankle ailment has his status in question. If Gore can't go, Berrian would be the next best option of the three.

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