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Sometimes-starters could provide dividends

| Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

If only the Texans could figure out their running back "situation." Houston has been playing the running-back-by-whim game the past few weeks, and it is the only thing keeping the Texans from being a juggernaut as the fantasy playoffs approach.

As they fight for a real playoff spot, their offensive players will face the Seahawks (Week 14), Rams (15) and Dolphins (16).

Not exactly the AFC North, as far as defenses go.

Here's a look at some of the better sometimes-starters to have heading into the playoffs:

Running backs

Who to keep

Laurence Maroney, Patriots — One of his games is against the Bills, who have allowed 10 runners to gain at least 85 yards in their past nine games.

Beanie Wells, Cardinals — Most importantly, he'll face the No. 32 (Lions) and 30 (Rams) scoring defenses in Weeks 15 and 16.

Marshawn Lynch, Bills — Could be playing for his job, and he will be doing it against the Chiefs (27th against the run) and Falcons (23rd).

Who to ditch

Matt Forte, Bears — None of the Bears' three opponents ranks worse than No. 6 against the run, and two are in the top eight in scoring defense.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers — There's a good chance the red-hot Chargers could rest the former MVP more against three top-10 rushing defenses.

Wide receivers

Who to keep

Kevin Walter, Texans — None of Houston's Week 14-16 opponents is better than 22nd against the pass or 20th in scoring defense.

Steve Breaston, Cardinals — Have to love a player going against the Lions and Rams when you're in your semifinals.

Who to ditch

Devin Hester, Bears — Between Jay Cutler's fondness for interceptions and the Bears' dates with the Ravens and Vikings, it doesn't look good for Hester.

Mario Manningham, Giants — Manningham could be in for a long touchdown at some point, but don't expect big yardage against stingy secondaries (Eagles, Redskins, Panthers).


Who to keep

Alex Smith, 49ers — Has multiple TD passes in four of his past six games and will face the Cardinals (Week 14) and Lions (16) in key playoff matchups.

Who to ditch

Eli Manning, Giants — A matchup king who fared great against weak pass defenses (Cowboys, Chiefs, Raiders, Falcons) and awful against good ones (Eagles, Saints, Broncos). He'll have the Eagles again.

Seattle's Burleson quietly having strong season

Nate Burleson is about as unheralded as they come.

The wide receiver led the Seahawks in receiving touchdowns (nine) in 2007 and also returned two kicks for scores. In 2008, he was on his way to being Seattle's top target (with five receptions and a touchdown) before he tore a ligament in his knee and was out for the season.

Maybe it was the bum knee that scared away owners. Maybe it was the T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing. Whatever the reason, he slipped all the way to an average fantasy draft position of 135 this season. Since then: 55 receptions, 708 yards and three touchdowns despite the struggles of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the virtual absence of a rushing game. Oh, and he still is returning punts.

There's no sign of an impending downturn for Burleson, either. Only one of his next four opponents (Green Bay) is among the top 10 stingiest against opposing wide receivers. And three of those opponents (Green Bay, Tampa Bay and San Francisco) are in the top nine for most punt returns allowed.

Burleson will keep getting his 7-8 points a game. And everyone outside Seattle will keep missing it.

Hot pickups

Name (Team) Pos.

Kenny Britt (Ten) WR

Alex Smith (SF) QB

Jamaal Charles (KC) RB

Freezing cold

Name (Team) Pos.

Julius Jones (Sea) RB

Jay Cutler (Chi) QB

Darren McFadden (Oak) RB

Wideouts to watch

Steve Breaston, Cardinals — The Vikings are dominant against the run, so Arizona will pass often, giving Breaston a shot at his best output of the season.

Malcom Floyd, Chargers — Ignore the Bengals' lackluster passing numbers against the Browns last week; the Chargers are way better in the air. Floyd will get his chances.

Injury report

Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals — Split reps in practice Wednesday, but bet on Warner making sure he plays in the battle of old men at QB against the Vikings.

Michael Turner, RB, Falcons — Did not practice yesterday, leaving Jerious Norwood and Justin Snelling as the likely top backs Sunday.

Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Panthers — Limited in practice means you shouldn't trust this on-again, off-again receiver.

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals — He should play this week after saying he could have played last week. But expect a timeshare with Larry Johnson.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants — Sprained ankle had the Giants planning to keep him out of some practices this week. He should be OK by Sunday.

Justin Fargas, RB, Raiders — Fargas' stinger suffered in Thanksgiving's game against Dallas could give Darren McFadden a shot to prove he isn't a bust.

Julius Jones, RB, Seahawks — Team is talking like he could play, but he probably lost the job to Justin Forsett anyway despite his coach's assertions otherwise.

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