Every week owners agonize over the borderline cases on their roster, deciding which to start or sit, baited by the underachievers ("this has to be his breakout week") and the maddeningly inconsistent ("I didn't play him and he had two TDs—I better get him in now"). With the fantasy playoffs just weeks away, every decision now carries extra freight. Here's how to handle some of the toughest cases.
Larry Johnson, RB,Bengals
In the brief period since his exile from Kansas City after Week 9, Johnson has reminded owners that he remains a threat to run for 100 yards, as he did last week against Cleveland. But can he do it again—and what if Bengals starter Cedric Benson returns from his hip injury? At least for this week, stick with Johnson. The Bengals face the Lions, and even if Benson is back, Cincinnati won't need him for long against Detroit's toothless defense. Johnson will see plenty of action regardless.
Jamaal Charles, RB,Chiefs
Owning the main man in Kansas City's backfield hasn't meant much this season, given how underwhelming the Chiefs' offense has been. But in the last three games Charles has been bidding to bring some consistency, averaging 110 yards from scrimmage. Expect LJ's versatile replacement to extend his touchdown streak to four games this week, even going up against a strong defense like Denver's.
Brandon Jacobs RB,Giants
This high fantasy pick has been a major disappointment. He hasn't cracked 100 yards in a game this season and has totaled only 66 yards in his last two starts. Owners most likely have been sticking with their pricey investment, waiting for that breakout game, but it won't come this week against the Cowboys. New York and its injury-decimated defense should fall behind Dallas quickly, forcing the Giants to play catch-up and rely on the pass. Jacobs won't get many chances.
Steve Breaston, WR,Cardinals
The most productive third receiver in football since the start of last season, he's been awfully quiet in games against the Rams and the Titans the last two weeks (four catches, 26 yards) while QB Kurt Warner has missed the last six quarters with injury. Still, stick with Breaston. The Cardinals face the Vikings and the league's second-ranked run defense, which means they should be leaning extra-heavy on their receiving corps, whether it's Warner or backup Matt Leinart who gets the start.
Marshawn Lynch, RB,Bills
You waited for him to come back from a three-game suspension and have showed patience despite his failure to reclaim Buffalo's top rushing job from Fred Jackson. But last week the former Pro Bowler touched the ball a mere four times for 15 total yards in a win against the Dolphins, and that should be the last straw. Things certainly won't get better this week in the Bills "home" game in Toronto against a Jets defense that has only allowed only one back a 100-yard game this season.
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Up for Air
Here's a sign of how sorry the Raiders' passing game has been: Through Sunday 22 NFL wideouts had more catches than Oakland's entire corps of wide receivers combined. But since quarterback Bruce Gradkowski took over as starter for JaMarcus Russell two games ago, Oakland has at least been throwing again. In his starts the Raiders attempted 34 and 35 passes, each time establishing a season high for the team. This means Oakland receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey,Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens, and tight end Zach Miller, are now usable. Particularly enticing is Schilens (below), who was the team's best wideout before breaking his foot during the preseason. He returned in Week 10; consider him for a start this week against the Steelers.
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (JOHNSON)
NEW STRIPES Johnson gained 107 yards against Cleveland; expect more of the same against Detroit.
ICON SMI (SCHILENS)