Foster, Rice vie for top-pick honors in NFL divisional playoff showdown
If LeSean McCoy not No. 1 pick in 2012, Ray Rice or Arian Foster should be
Mario Manningham may be a sleeper for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in 2012
Norris Cole has pushed Mario Chalmers to best production of his career
The NFL playoffs get into full swing with the top seeds taking the field this weekend, but there won't be much out there that will determine the rankings for fantasy 2012 ... unless you're not going to pick LeSean McCoy No. 1 overall next August.
If McCoy is not your man, the top pick in fantasy should be determined by the head-to-head matchup in the Texans-Ravens duel, with Arian Foster running opposite Ray Rice. Whoever performs better against those elite run defenses on the biggest stage should be your first pick.
You shouldn't take Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady No. 1 overall, because you can still get a very productive quarterback in the second or third round. Maurice-Jones Drew is coming off a great year, but he is more of a risk for a breakdown, particularly with the poor supporting cast around him. There will be no more running the ball stubbornly with MJD despite being down three touchdowns in the second half.
If you don't like McCoy -- maybe because you believe Michael Vick is going to rise back up and sap up some of the offensive production, particularly the red-zone touchdown runs -- your No. 1 is down to Foster or Rice.
Let this weekend be your guide.
The Texans have a rookie quarterback and are running into the Ray Lewis-Haloti Ngata run defense. The Ravens are facing one of the most-improved defenses in NFL this season and are built on running Rice down the stretch at big times. Two immovable objects against two irresistible forces: The winner -- not of the game, but the stats breakdown -- should be your league's No. 1 overall pick.
Here are some other things to watch in each of the other divisional playoff matchups:
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Can Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree prove to be elite?
The Saints are going to score on offense and load the box on defense, so while Alex Smith is much improved, the 49ers' ability to make productive fantasy options out of Davis and Crabtree is in question. Smith earned a return as a starter next season, no question. And Davis and Crabtree would be elite fantasy receivers with a more productive passing game. They figure to get an opportunity here to prove it. If they do, you have to expect they will play great in the NFC Championship against suspect pass defenses of the Packers or Giants.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Who do the Pats trust in the running game?
This is the time of the year the Pats turn to the running game to win big games. Sure, Brady is still going to wing it around, but the Pats win winter games by controlling the clock and running the ball, which they don't tend to do early in the fantasy season. The question is whether BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be the man? It could be rookie Stevan Ridley. He could be this year's James Starks. And next year's Starks for that matter -- when the Pats go back to throwing 40-to-50 times.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Which Mario Manningham shows up?
Will it be the 2010 version that looked like a fantasy starter, if not a star. Or will it be the bust of '11 version? Manningham wasn't 100 percent this season and Victor Cruz emerged as Eli Manning's No. 2, if not No. 1, receiver over Hakeem Nicks. Nicks was healthy longer this season, too, so Manningham was a lost asset. If he can perform like he is capable, he could be a sleeper for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs again next season -- yet drafted very late.
We have to talk some hoops this time of the year. The season is now three weeks old, so it is a good time to take a look at some of the surprises.
PG Iman Shumpert, Knicks
The rookie was not starting over Toney Douglas, but he was getting the bigger minutes and is taking off as a fantasy starter. Shumpert is the most-added player in fantasy, while Douglas is the most dropped, and rightfully so. The 17th overall pick in the NBA draft might not surrender the starting job back to Douglas at this point.
SG Kobe Bryant, Lakers
It is not surprising that he is productive so much as he is the best player in fantasy right now. The late first-rounder is 33 and coming off an injury-plagued year, but he looks as good as ever. Many also had to figure the Lakers would be a bit down because they have aged and dealt away a solid contributor in Lamar Odom. Those have been the very reasons Bryant has picked up the slack. You have to expect his age to show later, but you have to be happy with your first-or-second round-pick.
PG Chris Paul, Clippers
Paul was supposed to take off in Los Angeles. Apparently, it is going to take some time. Your early first-round pick's numbers have gone down instead of up. It is doubtful anyone is going to give up on him, but you can consider Paul a good buy-low candidate right now. It takes some time to jell in this game; ask LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the Heat.
PG Mario Chalmers, Heat
Norris Cole has been a rookie revelation, but the most important contribution of his hot start has been to motivate Chalmers to starter-quality numbers. He has almost doubled his scoring average and can now be considered a viable fantasy starter. Chalmers can sustain this, if you want slot in your in your lineups now.
SG James Harden, Thunder
That stretch run a year ago was no fluke. Harden has arrived as a top shooting guard. He might be the Thunder's third scoring option behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- two fantasy first-rounders -- but he can be a top-10, if not top-five fantasy SG.
C Andrea Bargnani, Raptors
At 26, Bargnani looks improved across the board, particularly in his rebounding. He is worthy of being considered a top-five center in points-based leagues, leading the position in scoring average. If those rebounding numbers continue to climb, he could be top-five in rotisserie formats, too.
PG Ty Lawson, Nuggets
He has assumed a bigger role and his numbers have ticked up across the board to the point he is now a top-10 fantasy point guard with room to grow. With improved shooting from beyond the arc he could become a top-five fantasy point.
SG MarShon Brooks, Nets
Brooks came out of Providence as a pure scorer, which sometimes can be a knock when you move from a mediocre college team to the NBA. Brooks is legit and looks like he could quickly become a big-time fantasy combo guard, like a Monta Ellis. Brooks won't reach that level as a rookie, but he can contend for Rookie of the Year honors and should be considered a starter in standard leagues right now.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there and takes them very personally.
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