(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Carolina Panthers (4-7)
Let's talk rookies on defense. Jon Beason has taken over as Carolina's middle linebacker and leads the team in tackles. David Harris and Darrelle Revis give the Jets some hope. Reggie Nelson has had a fine year for Jacksonville, and Cleveland's Eric Wright was improving before he sprained his knee. But all hype aside, the Defensive Rookie of the Year award is Patrick Willis's to lose. Sure, the 17 tackles in Arizona last week are great for IDP leagues, but his true coup de grace came in overtime when Sean Morey broke free and ran down the sidelines. Willis got on his horse and tracked down a player 50 pounds lighter, limiting Morey to a 62-yard gain. A touchdown would've won it; instead, Willis' play eventually forced the Cards to kick a field goal, which they missed. What tremendous hustle.
Fantasy Up: Frank Gore finally broke loose with his first huge game of 2007, and is healthy enough to do it again against this uninspired Panthers D. Gore carried it 21 times for 116 yards, caught 11 passes for 98 yards, and scored twice. You probably hesitate to use him because the Niners' offense is so low-risk, but Arnaz Battle has worked his way into reasonable flex territory. In his past six games, Battle had 54 targets, ninth-most in the NFL in that span. (And more than Terrell Owens, but don't tell T.O.) I'm a little scared doing this, but if you're in a terrible bind with your usual fantasy defense, the 49ers aren't the worst option in the world. It's not that I think they're great, and they've lost depth in the secondary (both nickel man Shawntae Spencer and reserve corner Marcus Hudson are out). I simply think that little of the Carolina offense.
Fantasy Down: The honorary play of the 2007 Carolina Panthers is the third-and-long draw. DeShaun Foster rushed for minus-5 yards on nine carries against New Orleans, and looked just that bad. There's only one explanation why John Fox hasn't gone to DeAngelo Williams yet: Williams isn't any better, except as a self-tackler. As of this writing, Vinny Testaverde sounded like he'd start, which would be good news for Steve Smith. But I'll believe it when I see it. As an aggrieved Smith owner, I have to say this is the first time I've rated him outside my top 24 since his broken leg. I'm guessing this will be a relatively close-to-the-vest affair, but I still wouldn't start the Carolina D.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3) at Indianapolis Colts (9-2)
My dad doesn't understand long hair in football, especially dreads. He doesn't mind the fashion statement, he just thinks it must get tremendously hot under that hair/helmet combo. But I have to say, in last week's Jags/Bills affair, I saw the best use of hair by a receiver in NFL history. Ernest Wilford swung wide on a short out, David Garrard threw him the ball, and Wilford whipped his head around, burying the ball in his dreads. It honestly seemed to slow the ball down, and give him a chance to get his arms up and catch the pass. We're a far cry from Ricky Williams getting dragged down via his follicles. Oh, and remember Larry Johnson yanking down Troy Polamalu last year? Good times.
Fantasy Up: Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, duh. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can stop great players. Manning has 21 career touchdown passes versus the Jags, third-most against any team (New England and Houston are 1-2). The first time around, in a 29-7 defeat, Garrard came out chucking it, throwing on eight of the Jags' first 11 plays and 10 of 16 overall before getting hurt. This time, expect Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to stick closer to character. I expect they'll combine for 30 carries. I don't have Marcedes Lewis ranked as a fantasy starter in a 12-team league, but maybe I should. He got nine targets last week, and with George Wrighster out for the season, Lewis is the man now in Jacksonville. You can start him in a pinch.
Fantasy Down: I know Garrard hasn't thrown a pick, and I know he set a season high with 36 attempts and a career high with 296 passing yards in Week 12. Maybe I'm wrong, and Jacksonville comes out throwing again. But I don't think so. Garrard will be a more typical Jacksonville caretaker in this one. Wednesday morning, I wrote Marvin Harrison looked probable; now he sounds doubtful. Manning said he "wouldn't count on" Harrison playing. I'm heartened by corner Rashean Mathis being able to play, a must if the Jags are to contain Reggie Wayne. Still, Manning is frustrated by his own performances lately, and I won't be surprised to see him turn in a great one Sunday. I'd avoid Jacksonville's defense.
San Diego Chargers (6-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-7)
"Three points wasn't going to help us," said Herm Edwards. Man, is he a terrible coach. I'm sure the Chiefs' leader is a fantastic mover of men, but as a late-game strategist, he's up there with Wile E. Coyote. Yes, Herm, three points was going to help you, but you don't trust your kicker, OK? But lost in going for it on fourth-and-1 while losing by three late against Oakland is the fact that before that play, the Chiefs called their first timeout to get organized and decide what to do. During that timeout, Edwards got the bright idea to challenge the spot of the preceding play. He lost the challenge, and thus lost his second timeout as well. It would've, like, come in handy later.
Fantasy Up: The Chiefs are San Diego's second straight opponent to enter the game having lost four straight. The Ravens were just what the doctor ordered for Philip Rivers and, more importantly, Antonio Gates, who broke out of his slump with 105 yards and two scores. Is it possible Rivers has gotten things turned around? I guess, though I wouldn't start him. LaDainian Tomlinson had his second-best game of the year last time around against KC (20 carries, 132 yards and a score). The Chiefs will do what the Ravens did: dare Rivers. Start Kolby Smith again. He showed a shiftiness missing from his previous work, though I'm suspicious much of his excellent debut as a starter (150 yards rushing, two scores) came thanks to the Oakland rush defense. Antonio Cromartie finally cracked the starting lineup, sending Drayton Florence to the bench. Baltimore wasn't a fair test, though; let's see him against Dwayne Bowe Sunday. I like the Chargers D quite a bit against an offense that won't have a healthy starting quarterback. San Diego absolutely gagged away the first meeting between these teams, but that was back when KC had hope. I expect a physical beat-down.
Fantasy Down: Brodie Croyle is questionable with a bad back, so Damon Huard may return. I'd want no part of neither. Tony Gonzalez had 71 yards and a score the first time around against the Chargers. He's been MIA during the Croyle Administration, though (10 catches, 123 yards and no scores in three games). A Huard return would be the best thing for him, even though it might doom the team.
New York Jets (2-9) at Miami Dolphins (0-11)
You can't entirely blame them, because they played in a quagmire Monday night, but Miami has run the ball on 68 percent of its first downs since John Beck took over under center. What's weird about that is in the two games pre-Beck, Cleo Lemon threw it on 47 percent of first downs, and that included the rain game in London. I see what the Fins liked about Ted Ginn; I'm starting to believe he's got actual wideout potential. But at this rate, it'll be 2008 before we know for sure.
Fantasy Up: Um, Jerricho Cotchery as a flex? Really, there's not much reason to start anyone from either squad in this game. It's one of the least fantasy-rich tilts of the season.
Fantasy Down: I'd love to recommend Thomas Jones; the Dolphins boast the eighth-easiest defense for backs to score fantasy points against. But Jones, who runs hard, just has nowhere to go. On Thanksgiving, it seemed like he was trapped in a phone booth. And yes, the touchdown-free streak continues. The Jets are even worse against the run, but as of this writing, there's no telling who'll get the most carries for Miami. Jesse Chatman has leg and neck injuries, and is a game-time decision. Samkon Gado is probably in line to start if Chatman can't, and Patrick Cobbs or rookie Lorenzo Booker could steal goal-line and/or third-down touches. It's a mess. Ricky Williams, as you've by now no doubt heard, is out for the season with a torn pectoral. Laveranues Coles still sounds pretty limited by his high-ankle sprain. He's questionable. Kellen Clemens regressed against Dallas, and his season numbers (49.1 completion percentage, six interceptions, three touchdowns) stink. He does have the big arm, but he missed way too many open throws in Week 12.
Detroit Lions (6-5) at Minnesota Vikings (5-6)
The Lions are a curious beast. They can't spread the ball around to their receivers; every week, one guy gets tons of targets, and everyone else seems invisible. (Week 12: Calvin Johnson. Week 11: Shaun McDonald. Week 10: Roy Williams.) They can't pass and run well in the same game. (Week 12: 134 yards rushing, 197 passing. Week 11: 25 rushing, 351 passing.) They can't employ a decent right tackle. (Now el-busto center/guard Damien Woody is moving out there?) Listen, Minnesota's pass defense gives up massive chunks of yards. But whether Detroit can take advantage is anyone's guess.
Fantasy Up: Adrian Peterson practiced Wednesday, and seems ready to play. Get him in there, despite the fact that the Vikings may go back to their early-season platoon with Chester Taylor. Frankly, I think Taylor is an OK flex play, too. Jon Kitna says and does some loopy things, but you have to admit the dude is tough. He's been sacked an NFL-high 44 times (nine more than anyone else), a year after leading the league with 63 (14 more than second place). Under such duress, you might expect David-Carr-in-Houston production, but I've got Kitna as a borderline fantasy starter this week. That said, we also know he's a turnover machine. It's not like the Vikings are returning three picks for touchdowns again, but opportunities should arise. I think you probably have to start the Vikings' D, despite the potential absences of Antoine Winfield and Tank Williams.
Fantasy Down: Tarvaris Jackson opened the Giants game with a beautiful bomb to Sidney Rice, but arm strength was never a question with this kid. He can make beautiful throws. Unfortunately, he also makes bad decisions and has three touchdowns and six interceptions this season. Even coming off a solid game against Green Bay (20 carries, 93 yards, one touchdown), I wouldn't start Kevin Jones if I could avoid it. He's so inconsistent, which really is a way of saying his offensive line is inconsistent. And you know the drill: Every week I rave about Minny's rush defense. It didn't do itself any harm allowing the Giants 127 yards on 39 carries, a 3.2-yard average.
Seattle Seahawks (7-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
Two major stars and their medical issues headline this one. Donovan McNabb wasn't able to practice Wednesday because of his thumb and ankle issues, and since Andy Reid said McNabb was his starter when he's 100 percent, assume A.J. Feeley will start. And Shaun Alexander has told reporters he's as healthy as he's been all season, and thinks he'll play. Meanwhile, Maurice Morris has a sore ankle, and as of this posting hadn't practiced. If Morris can go (and I think he will), I expect a frustrating platoon in the Seahawks' backfield. Things have just been going too well with Morris playing a major role.
Fantasy Up: Seattle gained just 89 yards by halftime in St. Louis last week, and was alarmingly susceptible to the Rams' suddenly rejuvenated blitzing attack. No matter how dynamic the Rams are becoming with the pass rush, though, it's nothing compared to what Matt Hasselbeck will see Sunday. The Seahawks' O-line has been a problem all season, and I expect that to be the case again Sunday. I still think you start Hasselbeck, because Mike Holmgren wants to do business via the air. But I've got the Seattle quarterback lower than usual on my rolls. Brian Westbrook has swelling in his injured knee again, and probably won't practice. Be nervous about him, but I think he'll go. He's toughed out all but one game this season, and he's got a chance to tear up a weak Seattle front. Bobby Engram is 14th in the NFL in targets, and sixth during the past five weeks. With D.J. Hackett out, Engram vaults to the front of this fantasy-value class; both he and Deion Branch are fantasy starters. I'd use either of them before Kevin Curtis or Reggie Brown.
Fantasy Down: I know Feeley had some good moments against New England, but in the end he still threw three picks, and the one at game's end was worse than anything Jason Campbell's done. It's easier to run on Seattle than throw. It's interesting how holding Tom Brady and the Patriots to 362 yards passing is supposed to be a feather in the cap of the Eagles' defense. While Lito Sheppard did play very well against Randy Moss, no safety or linebacker appeared capable of touching Wes Welker at the line, which was immensely frustrating. (Hit. Him.) I wouldn't use the Philly D this week. They'll probably sack Hasselbeck, but I also think they'll give up some big plays.
Atlanta Falcons (3-8) at St. Louis Rams (2-9)
I don't say this to get political, because heaven knows this isn't the place for politics. (Vote for Pedro!) But man, does Bobby Petrino ever look like disgraced Republican representative Tom DeLay. I guess he kind of coaches like him, too. Petrino's clock management before halftime against the Colts was a killer. He didn't call a timeout when the Colts were reeling on third-and-long deep in their own territory, accepting a punt with almost no time left. Ugly stuff.
Fantasy Up: How about that Rams' defense? Suddenly, while a few key players are out, Jim Haslett's unit is blitzing like mad, a feast-or-famine arrangement that should work well against a dreary Atlanta offense. You can start 'em. Steven Jackson took a big blow to the head and left the Seattle game, though he did return late. Fortunately, he'd already given you a 53-yard touchdown run before that. Atlanta has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing backs. Torry Holt is a guy you start every week, and Roddy White is getting there. White was part of the six-receiver 2005 first round, and suddenly he looks second-best in that class (Braylon Edwards is better; Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Matt Jones and Mark Clayton all look like busts of varying degrees). White's fantasy problems, as so often seems to be the case, are almost entirely quarterback-related.
Fantasy Down: Nine different guys have started on the Atlanta O-line; the latest guard, on Thanksgiving, was street free agent D'Anthony Batiste. Quinn Ojinnaka got schooled by Indy, and I don't love his chances this week, either. I'd avoid Warrick Dunn again if I could. Marc Bulger has been ruled out of this week's game because of his concussion. Gus Frerotte and his incredible fumbling fingers get the start. He has weapons, but you probably can't use him. You watch Joey Harrington, and you think, "OK, he's not really that bad." Then he makes an unbelievably stupid throw. The Atlanta newspapers have made kind of a big deal about Joe Horn being healthier this week in practice. Yeah, don't start him.
Houston Texans (5-6) at Tennessee Titans (6-5)
The Tennessee defense was a force in its first eight games, allowing just 117 points. In the Titans' past three, they've allowed 97. Not coincidentally, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth missed those three contests. All signs point to him returning Sunday, which would give the Titans a boost. But there's also been spotty play in the secondary, which is why I'm not ready to rush out and start the Titans' D. However, if a firmer rush defense keeps the score closer, Vince Young won't have to play from behind, which would be good news for all of Tennessee's fantasy options.
Fantasy Up: With Haynesworth returning, I'm not thrilled about Ron Dayne, but if you've been using him, keep it up. He had a very productive first half in Cleveland, but got only five carries in the second half. Gary Kubiak says he thinks Ahman Green will play, but I have my doubts. If Green's active, we're probably looking at split carries, which means bench both guys; but Kubiak saying Green will play and Green actually playing are two different things. The Andre Johnson story was all sweetness and light until he turned seven targets into just three catches for 37 yards in Week 12. Now the Texans are giving him time off in practice, which makes one think AJ's knee isn't perfect. Keep using him, though. I think you have to keep starting LenDale White. He's been brutal three straight weeks, but he's also gotten only 29 carries combined in those games. (He had 30 in the Carolina game alone.) If Tennessee doesn't fall behind, they'll use him more. Justin Gage has emerged as the most viable wideout Young has; he nearly scored twice against Cincy, and racked up 98 yards on his four catches. Unlike the other options in Tennessee, Gage's hands do not appear to be made of granite. He's still hard to start, but he's improving.
Fantasy Down: Matt Schaub had to throw too many dump-offs last week to be particularly valuable, and the Titans were taken to school by Cleveland's aggressive defense, which often brought extra attackers. In the first game between these teams, Schaub got hurt and left early. He's a marginal starter. It's not like they're facing a particularly dynamic offense, so maybe the Texans' D is tempting to you. But I'd stay away. They don't trust their young corners enough to bring pressure, so they don't make a lot of plays. They only have 16 sacks, third-worst in the NFL, and they're tied for 15th in takeaways.
Buffalo Bills (5-6) at Washington Redskins (5-6)
I haven't relished writing this preview, because the Bills/Skins will be about more than just football, to which we devote such ultra-serious pixel dust. Football is entertainment, and fantasy football is even more mercurial and silly than that, so when someone dies, we should get real for a moment. In this space, I philosophize about the abilities of grown men with lives and families and pulses, and sometimes I can be a little harsh. It's all meant in fun, but underneath the bluster, I do recognize our common humanity, and grieve along with all of you.
Fantasy Up: Clinton Portis was one of Sean Taylor's good friends, and is no doubt taking this as hard as anyone. Buffalo's rush defense has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing rushers during the past five weeks (and fifth-most all season), so if Portis has it in him, there should be opportunities Sunday. I'd use him. I really like the way Jason Campbell has turned around his accuracy issues. Honestly, he looks like a different player during the past month; his completion percentage has been better than 60 percent in his past three games. His main problem is a too-low 6.5 yards per attempt. Hopefully the bad interceptions at the end of Washington's past two games haven't dissuaded Al Saunders from throwing it downfield, because the Bills can be had. Lee Evans has only 10 receptions on 22 targets in his past three games. He's not open, and J.P. Losman isn't very good. Will a quarterback change help? I guess it couldn't hurt. Evans is a flex play on upside alone, but he's risky, to say the least.
Fantasy Down: The Bills continue to be a mess. They'll be without Marshawn Lynch again, and now Anthony Thomas is sounding less and less likely to play. That gives the starting gig to Fred Jackson with Dwayne Wright backing him up, but you probably shouldn't start either, unless you're convinced Washington will be too distracted. And while Washington's secondary will justifiably miss its leader, I wouldn't use Trent Edwards, either. He'll start in place of Losman (thank heavens), but while the kid has been pretty accurate, he hasn't had the reins taken off, and has five picks and just one touchdown.
Cleveland Browns (7-4) at Arizona Cardinals (5-6)
This is a terrible matchup for a team that just lost the two best players in its secondary, as the Cardinals did. Corner Eric Green played better than expected, but he's done for the season with a torn groin, and All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson needs surgery on his Achilles. The key man Sunday will be Antrel Rolle, who'll have to step up from nickel to starter. Rolle had a huge game two weeks ago in Cincinnati (three picks, two touchdowns), but this is asking an awful lot from a guy who was Sean Taylor's childhood friend.
Fantasy Up: This should be a barn burner; there are few skill players on either side I wouldn't use here. Derek Anderson is a must-start every week, but Kurt Warner and his nagging rib, elbow and thumb injuries have to be in your starting lineup, too. Eric Wright is still out at corner, and while fellow rookie Brandon McDonald did an excellent job on Andre Johnson last week, I still worry these Cardinals receivers will be overwhelming. Arizona clearly missed Adrian Wilson in the middle, and got steamrolled by Frank Gore last week. Jamal Lewis continues to have a very good schedule heading into the fantasy playoffs, and has to start. Edgerrin James has a tougher assignment; the Browns were the ninth-ranked team against opposing fantasy rushers in the past five weeks, but he should be in there, too.
Fantasy Down: Regular readers of this column know how much I like Braylon Edwards, so I'm not suggesting you bench him. But keep an eye on news of his hamstring; he's missed most of practice this week trying to rest up. There's a lot of talk about how Cleveland's defense is starting to "get it." Willie McGinest made a point of saying Sunday's win over Houston was the first time he felt his defensive teammates played cohesively. Kamerion Wimbley forced a fumble and looked strong (kind of a rarity, actually), and Leon Williams continues to be a revelation in the middle. Maybe you'll reconsider this unit against the Jets or Buffalo. But not this week.
Denver Broncos (5-6) at Oakland Raiders (3-8)
It's hard to write about Denver's running back situation without having your words become obsolete the moment you type them. Will Travis Henry be suspended before Sunday's game? Can Selvin Young's knee get well enough to play? What about Andre Hall's high ankle sprain? Is Cecil Sapp suddenly worth a pickup? This is a 4 p.m. start, so a lot of fantasy owners may simply have to look elsewhere. If Young plays and Henry doesn't, he's got a phenomenal matchup against the league's worst rush defense. I'm guessing someone will be platooning with someone Sunday. I'm just worried it might be Terrell Davis.
Fantasy Up: Justin Fargas is No. 7 on my running back list, the highest I've ever had him. The last time a Raiders rusher eclipsed 100 yards at Arrowhead was 1978, so that was a great effort. I bashed Robert Gallery hard before the season started, but he's been excellent (if unbelievably overpaid) at guard. The Broncos have stiffened against the run lately, but keep using Fargas. Tony Scheffler made a circus touchdown catch that the Broncos thought was the game-clincher in the fourth quarter last week. He's averaged around five targets a game during the past month, and those in frustrating tight end situations could look his way. Despite the fact that they just lost a game 37-34, I'm recommending the Denver defense. Yes, Fargas will have a good game. But the Broncos actually played very well against the Bears; it was special teams that did them in. Denver has allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing per contest, and just two rushing touchdowns overall, in their past five games, and the last time they played Oakland, they racked up two picks and four sacks.
Fantasy Down: Brandon Stokley hurt a knee in Chicago, and is questionable. This Oakland defense is so much more susceptible to the run than the pass, it's hard to justify starting anyone other than Brandon Marshall (and maybe Scheffler) in this Denver aerial attack, and that includes Jay Cutler. Alas, JaMarcus Russell still isn't getting the call from Lane Kiffin. Daunte Culpepper gets at least one more reprieve.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)
Jeff Garcia's back injury changes the dynamic of this fantasy matchup. With Garcia, Joey Galloway retains a ton of value against a shaky Saints secondary, and Earnest Graham has a little more room to run. But with Luke McCown evidently set to get the nod, the other Bucs skill players lose value. They're still starters in 12-team leagues, but barely.
Fantasy Up: This one has "17-14" written all over it. Tampa is playing so well on defense, I'd say they're a must-start just about every week, even against New Orleans' pass attack. Teams are still smart to throw away from Ronde Barber, and everyone else in that secondary is making plays (heck, Raiders and Texans castoff Phillip Buchanon has two picks, nine passes defensed and very few of his customary torches). And if Garcia can't go, I can see using the Saints' D, too. Defensive tackle Brian Young will be back, so they'll pretty much have October's great run-stopping unit healthy and together again. Reggie Bush missed a lot of first and second downs against Carolina, but don't get freaked: he was still given a 1-yard-line attempt (though he was stuffed). His shin supposedly feels better, and Sean Payton finds ways to get him the ball no matter what. Start him. As I just mentioned, I don't love New Orleans' air attack here, but you probably have to use Drew Brees anyway (and definitely start Marques Colston).
Fantasy Down: The Saints will do everything they can not to play a close-to-the-vest game (it's not in their DNA), but I predict Tampa will force them out of gadget mode early. As such, I think all of Brees' ancillary receivers, including David Patten, Devery Henderson and Eric Johnson, should ride the pine. Same with Ike Hilliard and Alex Smith on the other side. Bruce Gradkowski looked pretty much like he did last season, which is to say uninspired. All it took was three-plus quarters for Jon Gruden to decide McCown should be the team's backup.
New York Giants (7-4) at Chicago Bears (5-6)
The saga of the Giants' skill players continues. (Heck, the saga of the Giants continues.) Plaxico Burress turned in a fine Week 12 (seven catches, 93 yards and his ninth score), but he has a knee problem to go with his ankle, and won't practice this week. Brandon Jacobs still sounds doubtful with his bad hammy, but Derrick Ward seems set to return; he'll split the running back job with Reuben Droughns. And Eli Manning is, well, under siege.
Fantasy Up: Cedric Benson is gone, and the other Adrian Peterson gets the call for Chicago. I think you plug him right into your starting lineup if you're in need of a fantasy back. This isn't a good matchup (the Giants are second-best against fantasy rushers the past five weeks), but Peterson showed moxie moving the pile against Denver. Below, you'll see I'm not crazy about his quarterback, but Bernard Berrian is verging on every-week territory again. If you buy the whole "contract year" thing, well, Berrian is in his, and that excellent touchdown grab to tie Denver made him some ducats. Ask Sidney Rice whether Aaron Ross is ready to start at corner in the NFL. Soldier Field, late November, possible bad weather. Give both defenses a try. The Giants gave up a lot of points last week, but that was mostly the offense. The Bears gave up a lot of points last week, but getting Nathan Vasher back helps everything. I certainly like New York's D better.
Fantasy Down: Here's the thing about Manning: he's not his brother. That's not a shock to me. He wasn't his brother at Mississippi, either. But he is a more-than-serviceable NFL quarterback, and three of four picks in Week 12 weren't his fault. Burress is tied for sixth in the NFL with six drops, and as a team, the Giants are tied for third with 29. Granted, when you draft a fantasy quarterback, you draft his entire situation. Still, Manning is taking a bad rap. If it weren't for Vasher's possible return, Manning would still be a good start. As it is, he's borderline. When these teams played in '06, Rex Grossman lit up the Giants for 246 yards and three scores. But he was terrible in Week 12 (and to be fair, was also victimized by several bad drops, especially by Greg Olsen) until the fourth quarter, and I worry his inconsistency makes him unstartable.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)
Uh-oh. The weather is supposed to be bad again Sunday night, which could mean another quagmire. The Steelers and the Ketchup Bottle grounds crew were embarrassed by turf coming up in chunks on Monday night in a 3-0 game, and those conditions limited the usefulness of every fantasy player (except the defenses). This is just a hard thing to plan for. Normally, I'd expect a big air show. I guess you have to proceed under that assumption for now.
Fantasy Up: If you've enjoyed Chad Johnson's antics in the past (and I have), I don't think you get to call him a jerk for celebrating when his team's 3-7. Johnson's celebrations are about the joy of scoring a touchdown, and aren't ever angry or negative. Should he be less joyful about scoring in a game when his team can't make the playoffs? Does that mean he should also try less, too? I just don't have a problem with it. With Santonio Holmes still questionable [Ed Note: Holmes is now listed as Out on Pittsburgh's injury report], Hines Ward stays bumped up very high among wideouts. He had nine catches for 88 yards in the muck Monday, and scored twice the first time these teams played. Both quarterbacks will air it out. Carson Palmer will throw because, well, these are the Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger will throw because Cincy has allowed 1,199 yards passing in its past five games, and has focused more on the run. Plus, it's much easier to throw on a bad field than run.
Fantasy Down: Of course you're starting Willie Parker. He's still second in the NFL in rushing yards, and first (by a whopping 36) in carries. But he's also got just 133 yards rushing in his past 45 carries (a terrible 2.9 average), and that ain't all weather. Gaping holes just aren't there right now, like they used to be. And you also use the Pittsburgh defense, but I've dropped 'em "all the way down" to No. 5, which is low for a unit that's played so well. Palmer has had some good games against the Steelers, and without another TurfStorm, this is a 35-24 kind of contest.
New England Patriots (11-0) at Baltimore Ravens (4-7)
Philly didn't do much on defense to halt Tom Brady and his pals, so this talk of a "blueprint" needs to stop. The good stuff the Eagles did came on offense: They spread out the Pats, threw on Ellis Hobbs and whatever sundry nickel or dime back was in, and they kept the chains moving by eschewing deep balls and finding easy zone throws. It didn't help New England that Rosevelt Colvin got hurt (and is out for the season). I don't think the Ravens have the horses or inclination to match the Eagles' good offensive effort.
Fantasy Up: Willis McGahee has a bad matchup (the Pats have allowed just 257 yards rushing in their past five games), but opponents haven't really mattered to McGahee. He has a touchdown in each of his past six tilts, and he'll get you between 60 and 80 yards with a potentially shaky average. While Jonathan Ogden isn't what he was at left tackle and Adam Terry has been benched at right tackle (his future is as Ogden's replacement), I'd still start McGahee. Will Derrick Mason produce a flex-worthy output? Maybe. The key will be giving Kyle Boller time, and then having Boller play 1,000 percent better than he did against San Diego. (He was lucky not to have two passes picked off.) Mason has 12 and 13 targets the past two games, though, so if you're desperate, at least you know he'll have chances.
Fantasy Down: Bench Laurence Maroney. His lack of production is only partly his fault: the injury part. But there's not a lot a guy can do when his team sets in one rushing formation the entire first half. When Maroney eventually got in there against Philly, he did all right (10 carries, 31 yards and a score). I just worry he won't play all that much, and the one thing the Ravens can still do statistically is stop the run. Todd Heap has practiced some this week, but I think you're crazy to wait around for him to start Monday. The Eagles came out and played a 3-4 instead of their famous 4-3, telling linebacker Chris Gocong to rush off the edge nearly every play. Gosh, you know who else sometimes plays a 3-4? Expect to see Terrell Suggs in that same pressure mode, but either way, there's absolutely no way I'd use the Ravens' D Monday night. There's way too much potential for disaster. And they play the Colts next week. Nice.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.