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Forte's absence opens up Bears backfield at crucial time of year

For most of you, it's fantasy playoff time. If you made it, congratulations! If you didn't, your trash-talking privileges are suspended until next season.

As Eric Mack notes in his column this week, the fantasy playoffs -- when teams are banged up and the weather is colder -- are when teams turn to the run and the underachieving running back you drafted in the first round may finally come through.

Unfortunately for Matt Forte owners, he sprained the MCL in his right knee. Normally, that's an injury that would keep him out for the rest of the season, but the Bears say he'll be back for the Christmas game against Green Bay. That's Week 16, the championship in fantasy leagues, so you'll have to deal without him for now.

The Bears' replacement for Forte will be Marion Barber, available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues currently. Barber rushed 14 times for 44 yards on Sunday against a Chiefs defense that was not that strong against the run. Barber is expected to get the start, but beware of Kahlil Bell, who Lovie Smith says will line up in certain situations. He ran 4 times for 34 yards, including a 26-yarder, on Sunday.

Barber is the starter and could end up with a majority of the carries. But he's only averaging 3.7 yards a carry (to Bell's 3.8) and isn't likely to get a full workload. The Broncos defense has been playing well, but gave up a lot of yardage and points to Minnesota on Sunday. They give up the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs. Barber is the guy to grab this week, with Bell a deep sleeper if you have the roster space. If you have a roster spot with a fifth or sixth receiver you're never going to use, maybe even try to grab both.

Barber likely will do nothing fantastic -- Weeks 15 (Seattle) and 16 (Green Bay) are average matchups -- but it's a chance to grab a starting running back as the playoffs begin.

Christian Ponder, Vikings (17 percent): Completely stuck at quarterback? Ponder has put up double-digit points the last few weeks. Detroit's secondary hasn't given up a ton of points to quarterbacks this year, but with the defense banged up he could be a fill-in play if you're completely desperate.

Toby Gerhart, Vikings (45 percent): Minnesota's backup had a fine game on Sunday, rushing 21 times for 92 yards against a decent Broncos defense. He also caught 8 passes for 42 yards. Detroit isn't a great matchup this week, but the Vikings are clearly going to give him the ball a lot.

Ryan Grant, Packers (42 percent): The Packers' James Starks injured his ankle against the Giants Sunday and didn't return. If he can't go for some reason -- it was the third straight game he hurt his ankle, so it's a possibility -- Grant would be the nominal starter. If Grant is taken in your league, you might want to take a flier on Brandon Saine, who rushed 6 times for 16 yards and caught 4 passes for 29 yards (on 6 targets) Sunday. He's available in 99 percent of leagues.

Maurice Morris, Lions (48 percent): Kevin Smith reinjured his ankle Sunday and didn't look that healthy when he was in there. In his absence, Morris rushed just 12 times for 28 yards, but he did pick up 5 catches (on 7 targets) for 47 yards and a score. Smith is probably out at least this week. The Lions have good matchups the next few weeks.

Damian Williams, Titans (17 percent): There are other players with more upside, but Williams might be the closest to a sure bet. He caught 4 passes for 62 yards Sunday (on seven targets) and has excellent matchups the next two weeks, against New Orleans and Indianapolis. He's sure to get a decent number of targets and could be in line for a score in both games.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (25 percent): He hadn't done much the past few weeks until catching a garbage time three-yard touchdown Sunday. He was targeted by Carson Palmer a team-high eight times and he could emerge as the No. 1 late in the season. The Raiders' passing game has a good matchup against Green Bay's defense this week.

Robert Meachem, Saints (50 percent): Interested in taking a flier? Meachem is week-to-week. He put up 119 yards receiving on 3 catches Sunday and also scored. The previous week, he had zero points. Two weeks prior, Meachem caught 2 passes for 69 yards and a score. It's taking a flier on a guy, and the Titans' defense isn't a great matchup this week, but he obviously has a high upside. Another boom-or-bust option is Donald Driver (11 percent), who scored twice for the Pack on Sunday.

Jake Ballard, Giants (46 percent): The Cowboys don't defend the tight end well, and the Giants' next two opponents (Washington and the Jets) aren't terrible matchups, either. Ballard caught 3 passes for 47 yards on Sunday against the Packers. He could have a quality game Sunday if you have a first-round playoff matchup.

Rob Bironas, Titans (39 percent): The Titans offense is humming along and he has put up double-digit fantasy points in back-to-back weeks, kicking three field goals on Sunday. He was 3-for-4 the week before. He's available in most leagues, and the Titans' schedule is not hard in the coming weeks. He should be the kicker you pick up.

Seahawks (17 percent): Seattle's defense has quietly been good the past four weeks, putting up double-digit points twice. Now they play turnover-prone St. Louis. Teams have put up more defensive fantasy points against the Rams than any other team. Seattle's available almost everywhere.

Broncos (43 percent): Denver actually gave up a ton of points in Sunday's 32-29 win, but made up for it a bit with 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. They could score a lot of points against a Chicago offense without Forte.

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