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Fantasy football Bold Strategies: Start Ryan, ignore Bucs' backs

Photo: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

Matt Ryan has struggled the last few weeks, but he draws a good matchup with Tampa Bay this week.

The home stretch. The light at the end of the tunnel. The fantasy finish line is in sight.

Most leagues have three weeks left before the playoffs. Unless you've had some serious luck (or you own Peyton Manning), you are fighting for your playoff spot. Every decision you make could be fantasy life or death. No pressure, right?

Here is some advice to help you get to that finish line.

BELLER: Will Foles eclipse Manning's record? Week 11 player projections

Sneaky good start: Matt Ryan

The past several weeks have been horrific for Matt Ryan and the Falcons; playing against some tough defenses in the Cardinals, Panthers and Seahawks will do that to an ailing offense.

If you're loyal to Ryan, the good news is that he has weathered the storm. He might have some roof damage and a flooded basement, but it was weathered nonetheless. Ryan emerges from his soaked basement with a great matchup against the Buccaneers, a team he torched for 273 yards and three touchdowns four weeks ago. Granted, the Buccaneers are playing with a bit more swagger since then, nearly knocking the vaunted Seahawks off on the road before claiming their first victory against the floundering Dolphins last week.

In fact, Ryan could hold the keys to your playoff bid. After Tampa Bay, Atlanta gets games against New Orleans, Buffalo, Green Bay and Washington to get you all the way to the championship game. Unfortunately he will be at San Francisco in Week 16, but you can figure that one out later.

Forget Tampa Bay's running backs

The popular thing to do this week is to pick up either Brian Leonard or Bobby Rainey based on their performances after Mike James went down for the count last week. But do you really want to rely on these guys heading into the home stretch of your fantasy season?

Granted, you may not have a choice. Many fantasy owners have been plagued by injuries or abject ineffectiveness at the position (see: Trent Richardson, discussed below), so desperation might be the name of the game. But in Leonard and Rainey, you are looking at a career 3.6 yards-per-carry average and an unproven journeyman, respectively. That and the Buccaneers backfield is cursed, apparently.

FLOOD: Why you SHOULD buy in on Tampa Bay's running backs; more waiver wire picks

Drop Trent Richardson/Pick up Richardson

Trent Richardson's situation has gotten so bad that he couldn't even have a decent showing against one of the worst rush defenses in the leagues. The Rams were supposed to fix him. Instead, he is broken as ever.

In that vein, it's totally fine to give up on Richardson. Hopefully at this point, his owners have a viable replacement -- as long as his name wasn't Mike James. Drop him or see if you can find a sucker who will trade for him.

On the flip side, if you see Richardson fall onto the waiver wire through his fantasy owner's tears, snatch him up. He might be a bitter disappointment, but he comes in the form of a starting running back that will provide some depth at a position that seems to have a new injury every week.

Hold off on Shane Vereen

The Patriots are getting healthier as the season progresses, with their latest return from injury in the form of Shane Vereen. The dynamic back is back at practice this week, a good sign heading into Week 11. But, as we saw with Rob Gronkowski and Percy Harvin, practice doesn't mean he will play.

If the Patriots' game was not on Monday night, owners might be able to make a better-informed decision about starting him. Even if he was going to play, the second-year running back would be dealing with the league's second-best rush defense that has been lights out in recent weeks. True, Vereen is more of a pass-catching threat than traditional running back, but he would be contending with the likes of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden for playing time on top of everything that was already mentioned.

Better to play it safe with Vereen unless you are absolutely desperate.

Stash Randall Cobb

Remember when Randall Cobb was placed on short-term injured reserve and fantasy seasons were ruined? That seems like a lifetime ago (it almost was, in terms of fantasy football).

Cobb is due to be back in Week 15, just in time for fantasy semifinal matchups. It might be dangerous to stick him in lineups right away given the layoff, but he could provide a real nice boost at the perfect time. That is, of course, if you were able to survive to that point.

Grab Bernard Pierce

The Baltimore running game is a mess. Both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are averaging an abhorrent 2.7 yards per carry. The offensive line has been rather offensive, leaving the running back duo little room to run. Rice's long run of the season is 14 yards; 72 other running backs have had a longer run -- including Pierce, whose long is double that of his compatriot.

It has gotten to the point where John Harbaugh is fielding questions about who his lead back might be going forward, to which he was noncommittal. It's difficult to believe Rice won't continue to be the starter, but he has quietly turned into quite the plodder over the past year. He has averaged just 3.4 YPC since Week 8 last season, crossing the 100-yard threshold just twice in that span. Pierce hasn't been much better at 3.8 during that time, but he looked far more dynamic last year, including the playoffs where he averaged 5.2.

Pick Matt Flynn Up (Okay, mostly in two-quarterback leagues)

Matt Flynn sure made that six-touchdown performance against the Lions in 2011 went a long way.

The journeyman quarterback has been with three teams since, initially cashing in with the Seahawks before getting cut by the quarterback-needy Raiders and Bills. So what makes him a worthwhile waiver wire pickup?

It's hard to imagine the Packers will simply throw him into the fire after just signing him, but Flynn has the benefit of familiarity here -- he should be able to pick things up rather quickly having come from the same system. Could he help you in a bind? Sure.

Let us think about this one a little more.

Photo: John Leyba/Getty Images

Demaryius Thomas trotted into the end zone three times against the Chargers in Week 10.

Survivor draft

Week 10 results:

Miglio -- 143.8
Edholm -- 110.5

Week 11EdholmMiglio
QBRussell WilsonNick Foles
RBAndre BrownLe'Veon Bell
RBChris IvoryKnowshon Moreno
WRRiley CooperPercy Harvin
WRAndre JohnsonDeSean Jackson
WRAlshon JefferyHarry Douglas
TEJordan ReedJulius Thomas
FlexBen TateMartellus Bennnett
KRyan SuccopMatt Bryant
DNY JetsArizona

Team Miglio

The comeback is real.

Team Miglio finally has a healthy streak going thanks to hitting on the top two receivers for the second week in a row. Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas buoyed my victory, accounting for nearly half of my team's points with their big days. My Ben Tate gambit didn't quite work out -- had I known Arian Foster was done for the entire season at the time, I might have waited until he had a better matchup -- but it was of little consequence in my easy victory.

A new week brings a new team with an ever-thinning pool of players. I have a sinking feeling that my team is chasing points with Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson this week. They have a nice matchup against a soft Washington defense, though, so the hot streak has a good shot to continue for another week.

After getting burned by a rash of goose eggs, it's a wonder why I would pick Percy Harvin in his first week back from injury. My reasoning is twofold -- Minnesota sports a horrendous pass defense, and Harvin will have a chance at a measure of revenge against his former team.

Incidentally, our total points for the season are all but dead even at this point -- 1,335.9 to 1,334.1 in favor of Team Miglio. We're not sure what this means, but at least our combined scoring average is nice and healthy.

Team Edholm

OK, no more messing around. I now know what the Houston Texans feel like. Losing stinks. I hate it. I want to punch a baby pony. Or, short of that, win this week. So that was my motivation heading into the weekly draft.

I took inventory on which running backs -- my weakest remaining position -- I had not used this season, and it was not nearly as dire as I had thoughts, especially with a few injuries and players returning from injury to go into prominent roles. Thus, Andre Brown was my first overall pick.

Love the matchups I have for Russell Wilson, Andre Johnson and Jordan Reed, but my fantasy love has been quite unrequited of late. It's getting a bit like a modern-day "Taxi Driver," in fact, but just short of me stalking my players on Twitter.

Never before have I prayed so hard for the likes of Riley Cooper and Chris Ivory in a given week, but with hope comes faith. As long as I don't run down to the local tattoo shop with that phrase in mind, I think this is the week I end the losing streak.

Catch up with Eric Edholm and Alessandro Miglio on Twitter.

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