Michael, your advice had put me into the championship game, but I'm already starting to think about next season! I'm in a keeper league and need to retain three players from Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner. Is it better to keep Fitzgerald or a third running back? I'll have the No. 11 or 12 overall pick in the re-draft. Thanks! -- D. Grigoletti Jr., Fulton, Ill.
Michael Fabiano: With those players, I can see why you made it to the championship! I wish you the best of luck. I think you have to keep Fitzgerald, Johnson and Turner and throw Jones-Drew back into the pool of free agents. The smallish back out of UCLA is having another tremendous season in fantasy leagues, but your backfield is already pretty solid with Turner and Johnson. I also prefer to retain an elite wideout like Fitzgerald over what would be a potential flex starter or third running back.
M.F.: Thigpen has been quite a find off the waiver wire this season, but I'd still go with Schaub. He does have a bad matchup on paper against the Raiders, who rank ninth the league against the pass defense. But in their last two games, the Silver and Black has allowed Philip Rivers and Matt Cassel to throw for a combined 432 yards and seven touchdowns. Schaub has also been hot since his return from an injured knee, throwing for a combined 698 yards and three touchdowns over the last two weeks.
M.F.: I've been a huge fan of Thomas for several weeks, and I love him against Detroit. In fact, I have him ranked third among running backs behind only Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner. The Lions have the league's worst run defense, and Thomas has been one of the hottest runners in the league. In fact, he's scored the third-most fantasy points at his position on NFL.com since Week 11. With the status of Reggie Bush uncertain, Thomas should see a ton of touches in what could be a shootout at Ford Field. Overall, I'd start Turner and Thomas and bench Jackson and Jones.
At wide receiver, I'd start Johnson and Wayne. I know the latter has been inconsistent in recent weeks, but Marshall hasn't been that reliable either. In fact, he's scored double-digit fantasy points just three times in his last 11 contests. Wayne also has a better matchup, facing a Jaguars defense that's allowed 22 receiving touchdowns. Thursday night games have produced tons of points this season as well, which is another reason to start Wayne.
M.F.: Let's look at the numbers. The Ravens have faced four legitimate fantasy quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Chad Pennington, Eli Manning) on the road this season. That quartet threw for an average of 227 yards and combined to toss six touchdown passes. Overall, home quarterbacks have thrown for nine scores against the Ravens -- that makes up close to 65 percent of the total touchdown passes they've allowed this season. These numbers show that it's tough for a quarterback to produce against the Ravens (which we knew), but it's not impossible when they're at home. Heck, Derek Anderson had 219 yards and two touchdowns against them back in Week 9.
Romo is banged up and will see a lot of pressure, but I expect the Cowboys to throw the ball in an effort to move the offense. I'd be shocked if he had a monster line, but 225-250 yards and at least one touchdown is a good projection. Based on his value and overall level of production this season, I'd consider Romo a low-end fantasy starter.
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M.F.: First off, good luck in the finals! As I mentioned earlier in this column, Thursday night games have been virtual point cornucopias. Based on that notable trend and a matchup against a vulnerable Jaguars pass defense, I'd start Manning ahead of Rivers. At the wide receiver position, I'd start Boldin, Moore and Wayne. I realize Boldin has done a Houdini act in recent weeks, but he's too valuable to sit in the fantasy championship. What's more, this week's opponent, the Patriots, have allowed the second-most receiving touchdowns in 2008. Wayne is a nice combo option with Manning on your roster, and I'd start Moore ahead of Royal based on the matchups.
M.F.: Warner actually has a great matchup this week. The Patriots defense is riddled with injuries and vulnerable to even the most average pass attacks. In their last two games, the P-Men have allowed a combined 454 yards and five touchdown passes to Seneca Wallace and JaMarcus Russell (No, that's not a misprint)! Warner, who is one of the top five quarterbacks in fantasy football, should be considered a must-start in most formats unless you have either Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.
I need to start two running backs from Ronnie Brown, Steve Slaton and Kevin Smith. My gut is telling me to go with Slaton and Smith. What do you think? - C. Hanson, Minnesota
M.F.: Brown does have a nice matchup against the Chiefs, but I'd agree with your gut instincts and bench him in favor of Slaton and Smith. Slaton, who should have been selected to the Pro Bowl ahead of Brown, is one of the hottest running backs in fantasy football. He's a tremendous option against a Raiders defense that ranks 31st against the run. Smith has had a roller-coast ride of a rookie season, but he's totaled eight catches, 210 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in his last two games. Brown has failed to rush for 100-plus yards in nine of his last 10 starts, and he's found the end zone just once in his last five games.
M.F.: All three of these defensive units have favorable matchups this week, but the Jets hold the most overall value. The Men in Green rank eighth in fantasy points on NFL.com (49ers are 22nd; Texans are 27th) and will face a Seahawks team that's without Matt Hasselbeck. Furthermore, three of the last five defenses to face them have scored double-digit fantasy points.
Which two wide receivers should I start from Donnie Avery, Bernard Berrian, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss? -- L. Perez, Yakima, Wash.
M.F.: Moss is a very attractive option this week against a Cardinals defense that's allowed a league-high 31 touchdown catches, and I'd start Berrian ahead of Avery and Harrison. Berrian has had some inconsistent weeks, but he's passed Harrison in terms of value and faces a Falcons defense that's 24th in receiving yards allowed.
M.F.: Now is the time to stick with your studs, so there's no way I'm benching Brees. He still has a chance to throw for 5,000 yards and faces the winless Lions in Week 16. This game could turn into an absolute barnburner, so Brees will no doubt have another monster stat line for fantasy leaguers.