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Thigpen emerges as fantasy starter; Parker a nice option in Week 12

Which quarterback should I start from Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, Kyle Orton and Tyler Thigpen? -- J. Urban, Manhattan, Kan.

Michael Fabiano: I do like Orton a lot this week against the Rams, but Thigpen has been far too hot to bench in this case. (Did I just say Tyler Thigpen has been too hot to bench?) Yeah, it's been a wild season, but the Coastal Carolina product has scored more fantasy points than any other player on since Week 8. He does have a tough matchup against the Bills, who rank a respectable 13th against the pass, but now's not the time to bench Thigpen unless you have an elite quarterback.

I'm in a PPR league and need to fill two flex spots from Mark Bradley, Greg Camarillo, Warrick Dunn, Vincent Jackson, Muhsin Muhammad, Kevin Smith and Cadillac Williams. Who should I start? -- B. Burow, Green Bay, Wis.

2008 statistics:
Att: 117

Yards: 513

TDs: 5

M.F.: The fact that you're in a PPR leagues makes wideouts more valuable, but in this situation I'm going with Dunn and Smith. Bradley, Camarillo and Muhammad have been a bit inconsistent, and Jackson has a tough matchup against the Colts and their ninth-ranked pass defense. Dunn, who is a very capable pass catcher out of the backfield, should be seen as a nice option this week in Detroit. The Lions have the league's worst run defense, and Dunn should see a larger role in the Buccaneers offense with Earnest Graham out of the mix. Smith, who has become the Lions' featured back in recent weeks, has quietly recorded 258 scrimmage yards in his last two games. Last week against a very formidable Panthers defense, the rookie out of Central Florida totaled 135 scrimmage yards. That shows he's not simply a matchups-based running back in fantasy land.

Do I dare bench Kurt Warner in favor of Kyle Orton this week? Warner has a tough matchup against the Giants, and Orton's playing the Rams. Also, should I bench Steve Smith and start Justin Gage instead? -- A. Logan, Marlborough, Mass.

M.F.: Unless you have Peyton Manning, there's no way I bench Warner this week. I realize he has a tough matchup against the Super Bowl champion Giants, but there isn't a team in the NFL that can handle the duo of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. With Steve Breaston also in the mix, the Cardinals' pass attack is a virtual nightmare for opposing defenses. What's more, Warner is a must-start quarterback regardless of the opponent. That was made obvious back in Week 8, when he threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns in Carolina against a Panthers defense that has previously been almost impossible to throw against on their home field.

Smith has been a real disappointment over the past two weeks, while Gage has thrived and become the top option in Tennessee's pass attack. But as much as I like Gage this week against the Jets and their 28th-ranked pass defense, I'd still stick with the stud and start Smith. Despite his struggles, I think he's still too valuable to reserve.

This is an important week -- I need to make a postseason run! Which two running backs should I start from Ryan Grant, Willie Parker and Steve Slaton? -- P. Shields, Canada

M.F.: Grant has awoken from a statistical slumber and made a very significant impact for fantasy leaguers over the last two weeks. But based on the matchups, he is the running back to sit out of this trio. Grant faces the Saints on Monday night -- they've allowed an average of 91.5 rushing yards per game at home. What's more, their defense has allowed just five rushing touchdowns all season. That's tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Parker, who rushed for 115 yards against the Chargers, doesn't look like a back who's dealt with knee and shoulder injuries. He also has a great matchup on Thursday night against Cincinnati, who rank 23rd against the run. Fast Willie also owns the Bengals -- he's rushed for 480 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games against them. I also like Slaton against the Browns, who rank 28th in run defense.

Is it time to bench Brian Westbrook? I need to start two backs from Westbrook, LenDale White and DeAngelo Williams. -- C. Griffin, Atlanta, Ga.

M.F.: Williams has established himself as a must-start back in recent weeks, rushing for a combined 368 yards with five total touchdowns in his last four games. But despite the fact that Westbrook has been invisible in his last three games, I can't sit him in favor of White. Sure, he does have 11 rushing touchdowns on the season (that's five more than Westbrook), but White is averaging just 47.6 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks. He also faces a Jets team that ranks fourth in run defense.

Which quarterback should I start this week from Tony Romo and Matt Ryan? Neither was very good last week! -- A. Giannakos, Australia

M.F.: I like Romo this week against San Francisco, which ranks 25th against the pass and is allowing an average of 258.5 passing yards per game on the road. Ryan took a bit of a step back last week, at least in fantasy football circles, with his mediocre performance against a vulnerable and injury-riddled Broncos defense.

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I need to sit one running back from Matt Forte, Frank Gore and Michael Turner. Also, should I start Matt Cassel over Kurt Warner? - S. Cassidy, Ireland

M.F.: Tough call, but I think you have to sit Turner. I realize he'll be active in more than 90 percent of leagues this week, and he should be, based on his immense success at the Georgia Dome. But in his first game of the season against this week's opponent, the Panthers, Turner rushed for just 56 yards and no touchdowns. What's more, it's just really difficult to sit Gore and Forte. Even against a tough Cowboys defense, I think Gore is just too versatile to reserve. He's on pace for 56 catches, 1,854 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. Even if he doesn't find the end zone, Gore has been good for terrific yardage totals week in and week out. I also love Forte against the Rams. They've allowed 517 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in their last three games and field one of the league's most vulnerable defensive units.

I need to start two wide receivers from Laveranues Coles, Donald Driver, Braylon Edwards and Calvin Johnson. Who should I choose? -- A. Femyer, Wisconsin

M.F.: I think Johnson (aka Megatron) has become far too valuable to reserve in most leagues, regardless of the Lions quarterback or level of opponent. I'd also side with Edwards over Coles and Driver. While I do like the latter's matchup in New Orleans (I see Driver as more of a high-end No. 3 fantasy wideout this week), Edwards is coming off a solid performance (eight receptions, 104 yards) against the Bills on Monday night and now faces a Texans defense that ranks 17th against the pass.

Should I start Peyton Hillis over Julius Jones this week? Also, is it time to bench Jeremy Shockey in favor of Dustin Keller? -- M. Barrow, Syracuse, N.Y.

M.F.: Jones has been an enormous bust in Seattle, averaging an awful 43.4 rushing yards per game with no touchdowns since Week 3. He also has a tough matchup against the Redskins, who rank fifth in run defense. That makes me side with Hillis, who scored two touchdowns in Atlanta last week. The rookie fullback is a nice flex option in Week 12 against the Raiders and their 30th-ranked run defense. At the tight end position, I would definitely start Keller ahead of Shockey. In his last two games, he's hauled in 14 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. That includes an eight-catch, 87-yard performance against the New England Patriots last Thursday night.

Should I bench Chris Johnson this week? He's done nothing over the past two games and faces the Jets' tough run defense in Week 12. I can replace him with Tim Hightower or Marshawn Lynch. -- F. Classen, Denmark

M.F.: Johnson has seen his numbers fall over the last two weeks, as defenses have focused on stopping the run and challenged Kerry Collins to beat them. The veteran quarterback has done just that, throwing for a combined 519 yards and five touchdowns. But here's the catch -- the Titans' game plan might include taking more chances in the pass attack based on this week's opponent, the Jets. They're very stout against the run (4th) but an awful 28th in pass defense. That could mean more of Collins and Gage and a little less of Johnson and LenDale White. That makes me side with Lynch, who went off on Monday night and should post another great stat line this week in Kansas City.

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