NFL fantasy start 'em, sit 'em
Lions defense has allowed 13 rushing TDs over last five games
Steve Heiden ranks third on the Browns in receptions in 2008
Marion Barber likely to struggle vs. tough Steelers defense
Whether your playoffs start this week or not, we're at the point in the season where you have to simply survive and advance to keep your season alive. Here are some players who should be able to help your cause and let you play another day, and a few more who have gotten you to this point in the year, but you might want to think twice about using this weekend.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
The surprising Falcons travel to the Big Easy for a matchup that will be anything but. Drew Brees & Co. are averaging 34 points per game at home, which should mean plenty of passing for Ryan, who had one of the finest games of his career against the Saints at the Georgia Dome in Week 10, throwing for 248 yards with two touchdowns. Also helping Ryan is the emergence of rookie wideout Harry Douglas, who over the last two games has 105 yards and a TD, further complementing Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.
Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings
Adrian Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing, having gained 1,311 yards. That hasn't kept Taylor from being a productive fantasy back, though. The former 1,000-yard rusher has 25 touches for 92 yards from scrimmage over the last two weeks, finding the end zone against both the Jaguars and Bears. This week the Vikes line up against a Lions defense that has given up 100-yard games to teammates in two of the last three games (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart; Chris Johnson and LenDale White) and has allowed 13 rushing TDs in the last five games.
Domenik Hixon, WR, Giants
Hixon is flying off waiver wires all week following the Plaxico Burress self-shooting and subsequent addition to the Reserve-Non-Football Injury list, ending his season. While not an integral part of the Giants offense all season, Hixon has shown flashes of greatness when called upon, including a four-catch, 104-yard, TD first half (before leaving with an injury) in a start against the Seahawks. Amani Toomer, Kevin Boss, Sinorice Moss and Steve Smith also will see a spike in value, but Hixon should experience the greatest rise and should be in your lineup this week against the Eagles.
Steve Heiden, TE, Browns
With no Brady Quinn and no Derek Anderson, the Browns would like to run the ball. Unfortunately, the Titans have one of the NFL's top run defenses and will keep Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison and Jason Wright in check. That leaves Ken Dorsey looking to get rid of the ball quickly on short passes and slants. With Kellen Winslow in a walking boot for a sprained ankle and out for at least this week's game in Nashville, in steps Heiden, who has quietly started nine games this season and ranks third on the Browns in receptions with 19 for 220 yards and will surely pick up some of the 4.3 catches per game Winslow had been averaging this season.
Neil Rackers, K, Cardinals
The eventual NFC West Champion Cardinals are two-touchdown favorites against the Rams who can't seem to do anything right these days. The latest problem in St. Louis has star back Steven Jackson and coach Jim Haslett squabbling about just how hurt Jackson really is. Anyway, the Rams have averaged just 10.5 points per game over the last six weeks and have lost by an average of 19.8 points over that span. The Cardinals have the league's third-best offense and are averaging 32.0 points at home. In Week 9 at St. Louis, before the Rams' total collapse, Rackers, who is being started in just over half of all leagues, racked-up 10 points in 34-13 win. He'll be even better this time around.
The Bengals enter Sunday's tilt ranked dead last in the NFL in scoring at 12.6 points per game. This year Cincinnati has scored less than half the number of points of seven different teams, and an astounding 23 teams have outscored the Bengals by at least 100 points. The Colts defense is on a roll after holding the Browns to no touchdowns last week and following defensive end Robert Mathis' first career touchdown. And don't worry about Indy's reputation for being poor against the run; Cincinnati's running back combo of Cedric Benson (2.9) and Chris Perry (2.6) rank third to last and last in the league, respectively, in average yards per carry among runners who have run the ball 100 times or more.
Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns
The horror of Edwards' season got even worse on Sunday when previously vanquished quarterback Derek Anderson went out with a season-ending knee injury leaving Cleveland with the underwhelming Ken Dorsey behind center. Edwards, already one of the top candidates for worst-un-injury-related-busts of the fantasy season, leads the league in drops with 16, which is four more than the next worst, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe. He deserves a permanent spot on your bench.
Marion Barber III, RB, Cowboys
Starting or sitting Barber this week is possibly the hardest decision of the season. Barber is suffering from the results of a dislocated pinkie toe. He is expected to play on Sunday in what's expected to be a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, which normally would be the perfect conditions for a power back. However, the Steelers have the league's top run defense, having surrendered only 854 yards and a per-carry average of 3.1 and have allowed only four running backs to reach the end zone via the run and two more via the pass. Play him if you must, but if you have a solid alternative, it might be best to avoid the situation altogether.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins
Portis lost the NFL rushing lead last week by gaining just 22 yards against the Giants while Adrian Peterson was running for 131 at home against the Bears. Unfortunately for Portis owners, Washington goes to Baltimore to face the Ravens, who have given up an AFC-low three rushing TDs. Minus the 207-yard shellacking they received at the hands of the Giants, Baltimore has yielded just 66.5 rushing yards per game