Eric Mack
Wednesday December 7th, 2011

By now setting your fantasy lineup isn't rocket science. You're in the fantasy postseason and have mastered the art.

You know when to pull your reliable vet in the wrong matchup, or when to take a chance on an underutilized talent facing a favorable one. With that in mind, we will switch up our approach to our weekly Start 'Em, Sit 'Em feature down the stretch.

We go position-by-position now, instead of matchup-by-matchup, outlining the top question marks and telling you who should be sitting or starting.

It is Fantasy Week 14, the first week of the playoffs for many teams. It is win or go home for those teams that didn't earn a first-round bye, so you don't want to mess this up. Here are our top recommendations.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are obvious go-to guys, while Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford should all be in for big weeks. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and the returning Michael Vick look like safe bets, too. As for the question marks ...

Five starts

Carson Palmer, Raiders -- We still don't have a clear idea who his top targets are, but the Packers are the second-worst team in fantasy against QBs and WRs. Most of that production is a result of offenses trying to keep up with Rodgers, which you have to figure Palmer will have to do as well. Palmer wasn't great against the Dolphins, but he is still better as a fantasy option than over half the starting QBs in the league. He looks good for 250 yards and at least a couple of scores.

Rex Grossman, Redskins -- Remember when Grossman was a monster early in the season? He can be that productive against the Pats, the worst team in fantasy against QBs and WRs. Like the Packers, the Pats give up a lot of passing yards and scores in garbage time, as teams try to keep up with an elite QB in Tom Brady. Grossman has lost his tight ends, but Santana Moss is healthier and Jabar Gaffney is a sleeper.

Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Those fantasy owners who have talked about benching, or even trading or cutting Rivers, sure look silly now, don't they? Rivers woke up in a huge way Monday night and a deck of healthy receivers make him a candidate to start, regardless of the matchup. The Chargers are still in a must-win mode and they should be able to blow out the Bills, who are in the bottom 10 of fantasy against QBs.

Joe Flacco, Ravens -- Last week was the Ray Rice show. This week we will welcome back Flacco to fantasy stardom. Flacco has his detractors like Rivers has this season, because of some real quiet weeks and a sketchy receiving corps, but the Colts are eighth-worst in fantasy against QBs and only the Vikings have a worse TD-to-INT ratio against opposing QBs. Flacco will make Anquan Boldin a must-start, Torrey Smith a sleeper and Ed Dickson a potential stopgap.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- He is this week's "start your stud in the fantasy postseason regardless of the matchup." Sure, the Browns don't look like much of an opponent, especially with the Steelers at home, but this is a short week (they play Thursday night) and, quietly, the Browns are the best team in fantasy against QBs and WRs. Most the Browns' effectiveness against the pass is a result of opposing teams just grinding out the clock from the start of the game. The receivers might be a worry for owners, but Big Ben shouldn't be. He will still get his consistent double-digit fantasy points. Consistency should not be scoffed at this time of year.

Five sits

Andy Dalton, Bengals -- Despite a rigorous schedule in recent weeks, Dalton has been able to maintain a streak where he has thrown at least one touchdown and made double-digit fantasy points. Not many quarterbacks in his class (as a marginal fantasy starter) can say that, particularly noteworthy for a rookie. This week he faces another elite defense, one that is fourth-best in fantasy against QBs. If you have been starting Dalton and getting away with it, you might want to flip to someone with more upside in this crucial postseason week.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers -- Freeman is hoping to play, but you shouldn't trust him if he does. He hasn't been his 2010 self this season, along with his receiving cast. He is banged up and he faces the seventh-best team in fantasy against QBs. The Jags were torched against a revived Rivers this past week, but Freeman is someone you should avoid coming off injury.

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals -- Kolb has shown some progress this season, particularly in relation to developing secondary targets as Larry Fitzgerald has drawn double coverage and safety help. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet have had some fleeting success when the Cardinals were finding Fitzgerald blanketed. The Cards are hot right now, too, but using Kolb against that elite 49ers defense is not something advisable.

Christian Ponder, Vikings -- He is coming off his best game as a pro with 381 yards and three scores. Percy Harvin has become a must-start receiver and Adrian Peterson (ankle) might even try to play this week to take the pressure off. The Lions are still in the top half of fantasy against opposing QBs, though, and Ponder isn't better than a veteran in an unfavorable matchup during crunch time.

Tim Tebow, Broncos -- This is fantasy heresy to suggest sitting the Tebowing One. But, the Bears defense has ruined more effective passers and they don't give much on the ground. This Broncos-Bears game has the makings of a field-goal battle that could wind up 12-9, if not 6-3. Tebow is useful if your other options are not good, but this is clearly one week to consider sitting him.

Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marshawn Lynch are coming off huge weeks and facing tasty matchups again. The same goes for the resurgent Chris Johnson and Ryan Mathews. Adrian Peterson probably has to start if he goes, but you should temper expectations on him and LeSean McCoy against a very underrated Dolphins run defense. As for the guys you are less sure about ...

Five starts

Michael Turner, Falcons -- It was asked in the Fantasy Roundtable this week whether we should be worried about Turner's slow stretch. Nope. He faces the worst team in fantasy against RBs in the Panthers. He is going to be good for 100-plus yards and a pair of scores. The Panthers have given up the most TDs to backs, including five through the air. Only the Browns, Rams, Colts and Bucs have given up more rushing yards.

Ricky Williams, Ravens -- Every league has Rice starting, but even the Ravens backup RB is a good play this week against the Colts. There figures to be a lot of garbage time, and Williams is coming off a productive Week 13. Williams is better than some of the most proven backs in fantasy this week that are facing tough run defenses. He should be good for 70 yards and a score again, maybe more of the Ravens give Rice more time off after his busy 200-yard week.

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers -- A star last season, Mendenhall has been more marginal this season as Big Ben has produced at a career-best pace in the passing game. This is Mendenhall's time to star now. He scored a pair of TDs last week, but he still has gone over 100 yards and 20 fantasy points just once this season. This will be his best week of the season, perhaps on the line of 150-plus yards and two scores or more. The Browns have allowed the most rushing yards by a wide margin this season.

Ryan Mathews, Chargers -- Mathews has taken off as a fantasy gem, and the Bills are seventh-worst in fantasy against RBs. He should move in the must-start category during this fantasy postseason.

Marion Barber, Bears -- The absence of Matt Forte opens the door to start Barber in all leagues. The Bears are going to be even more of a run-first team with Caleb Hanie throwing so many picks. The Broncos have allowed just one rushing TD this season, but Barber figures to take on the Forte receiver out of the backfield role in Mike Martz's offense. Kahlil Bell might even be a sleeper if you're really desperate for a back.

Five sits

Beanie Wells, Cardinals -- Wells hasn't been 100 percent of late, despite decent numbers the past two weeks. The 49ers shut him down for just one fantasy point in Week 11, holding him to just 33 yards with a lost fumble. The matchup is significantly tough against the best run defense and No. 1 team in fantasy against RBs to sit this horse.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati -- The Texans shut down a much better back in Turner last week and should be able to do the same against Benson here. The Texans are the third-best team in fantasy against RBs and with the rookie third-string QB they are going with, they are likely to play a more low-scoring defense and running game. Benson figures to be held to around 50 yards and no scores. If five fantasy points is exciting to you, start him; otherwise, go elsewhere.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Panthers -- Both of these backs were disappointing in a great matchup for an RB last week. Now, against the Falcons, the fifth-best team in fantasy against RBs, you have to sit both Williams and Stewart in almost all leagues. Neither figures to score or go over 50 yards.

Peyton Hillis, Browns -- Hillis finally proved healthy, but he hasn't proved overly productive against solid run defenses. The Steelers are the sixth-best team in fantasy against RBs and climbing. Hillis should sit in all leagues.

Michael Bush, Raiders -- Darren McFadden (ankle) still won't be back, but Bush was nonexistent against the Dolphins run defense (second-best in fantasy against RBs). The Packers are similarly tough against the run and figure to take that away from the Raiders, a team that tries to focus on that. Bush figures to be limited to less than 50 yards and no scores.

This is generally the most erratic position in fantasy, so you just start your studs and hope for the best. Here are some you should feel confident in and some others you should try to replace ...

Five starts

Santana Moss, Redskins -- Moss hasn't been 100 percent since returning, but the Redskins' loss of Fred Davis for the rest of the season will force Grossman to rely more heavily on Moss. It just happens to be a week where the Redskins face the worst team in fantasy against WRs. Gaffney is equally a potential sleeper if you're down a receiver this week.

Miles Austin, Cowboys -- They have given Austin plenty of time to heal before this crucial game against the Giants, who just happen to be fourth-worst in fantasy against WRs. Laurent Robinson is banged up and Austin is expected to start, so you should do the same in fantasy -- even if Austin's return last time was not productive.

Michael Crabtree, 49ers -- He might not be the first name you think of as a must-start receiver, but Crabtree has become just that. It helps the Cardinals are eighth-worst in fantasy against WRs, too. Trust Crabtree in all formats now.

Anquan Boldin, Ravens -- Flacco hasn't been great, but the Colts are in the bottom 10 of fantasy against WRs, and Boldin is going to be good for double-digit fantasy scoring again here. His running mate Smith is a viable option, too.

Jeremy Maclin, Eagles -- The Eagles figure to get Michael Vick back, and Maclin has returned to practice. With the career downward spiral of DeSean Jackson, Maclin figures to be the receiver of choice. Riley Cooper was a sleeper with Vince Young, but we should fully expect Vick to go to one of his guys in Maclin, if not Jackson, against one of the 10 worst teams in fantasy against WRs.

Five sits

Antonio Brown, Steelers -- He has been a productive rookie, somewhat surprisingly, but you should find a better option in fantasy crunch time. The Steelers should have plenty of success against the Browns, but outside of Mike Wallace and perhaps Heath Miller, most of it will come on the ground. Yes, we still say start Big Ben, but the Browns are the No. 1 team in fantasy against WRs.

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- Bowe has somewhat survived the bad QB play of Tyler Palko, but now he must also contend with a trip to Revis Island. Usually you start your studs, regardless of the matchup -- and Bowe is a stud -- but he is facing too many negative variables to use in crunch time. Go with a No. 3 receiver over Bowe, if you have a decent one.

Robert Meachem, Saints -- Out of seemingly nowhere, the Saints revived the early season star Meachem last week. Now, they face the sixth-best team in fantasy against WRs in the Titans. That is reason enough to assume Meachem is going to step right back into fantasy obscurity. Even when the matchup is favorable, there are no guarantees Meachem will be a Brees choice over Marques Colston or even Lance Moore on the outside.

Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Broncos -- The Bears are in the top half of fantasy against WRs and predicting with Broncos receiver is going to impact fantasy week to week has been a tough task. Last week, Thomas was the star, most weeks Decker has been. Don't use either Broncos receiver against the Bears defense, if you can help it.

Andre Johnson, Texans -- He is day to day and might try to play this week, but he has a rookie backup QB to work with and is dealing with a knee issue and two questionable hamstrings. This is one of the studs who has to be avoided at all costs.

After Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten, there are no sure things at this position. It should lead you to ignore the matchups more here than other positions ...

Five starts

Dustin Keller, Jets -- Mark Sanchez has played more like his early season self, and the Chiefs are the third-most forgiving team in fantasy against TEs. It is a good week to trust Keller.

Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers -- A potential return of Freeman can help, but even with Josh Johnson, Winslow is a solid play against the seventh-worst team in fantasy against TEs.

Vernon Davis, 49ers -- Davis has been much better in recent weeks and probably should return to must-start status at this thin position.

Brent Celek, Eagles -- The Dolphins are in the bottom half of fantasy against TEs and Vick's return can boost Celek. The duo was working well together before Vick went down.

Heath Miller, Steelers -- The Browns are the 11th-worst team in fantasy against TEs and Miller is due to get back involved in the Steelers' offense after some quiet weeks. It sure helps that the Browns are the best team in fantasy against WRs. It is a week to game plan the TE back in.

Five sits

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions -- Stafford is going to have a big week and the Vikings have allowed a league-worst 70 receptions to tight ends, but Pettigrew has just been too unproductive for too long to be trusted in crunch time.

Tony Scheffler, Lions -- If you're going with a TE from the Lions, it should be Pettigrew over Scheffler. Neither is a good play.

Greg Olsen, Panthers -- Like the Lions and Pettigrew, Olsen opened the year in an offense that focused its passing game on the tight end. Of late, Olsen and Jeremy Shockey have been nonexistent. The Falcons are a top 10 team in fantasy against TEs, too.

Jeremy Shockey, Panthers -- As goes Olsen, so goes Shockey. Newton just hasn't been going to the tight ends any more.

Owen Daniels, Texans -- With Johnson banged up and a young QB under center, the inclination would be the passes would go more to the tight end. It is good thought, but a bad thing to rely on against a top five team in fantasy against TEs like the Bengals.

Most of the stud defenses face great matchups, but we try to weed through the also-rans here ...

Five starts

D/ST Seahawks -- The Rams are the worst team in fantasy against opposing D/STs, and the Seahawks are great at home.

D/ST Broncos -- They have been steadily surging and facing Hanie and the Bears without Forte should make them a productive unit.

D/ST Bears -- They need their defense now more than ever. Tebow might be great, but he is still running a limited offense that plays right in the Bears defense's hands.

D/ST Chargers -- The Bills are the second-best team in fantasy against opposing defenses and the Chargers have been one of the bottom five D/STs in fantasy. Naturally, we think this is going to turn around a bit -- with our advising the Chargers as a sleeper here.

D/ST Lions -- They still won't have their run stuffer and might have to face Adrian Peterson, but Ponder is due to make his weekly mistakes and the Lions should blow this one out.

Five sits

D/ST Bengals -- The Texans are the No. 1 team in fantasy against opposing D/STs and they figure to stick to the run to keep their rookie QB out of turnover trouble.

D/ST Saints -- The Titans,surprisingly, are the third-best team in fantasy against D/ST, so the surging Saints are not a great stopgap option in crunch time.

D/ST Cardinals -- They have been impressive, particularly with their record-setting returner, but the 49ers are the fourth-best team in fantasy against D/STs.

D/ST Giants -- This might be the most overowned unit in fantasy right now. They still are not getting great pressure on the QB and that was probably the only reason you owned them in the first place.

D/ST Cowboys -- They have been a marginally good unit, but they are best off avoided a Giants offense that can make this one a shootout.

You are unlikely to need to change your kicker, but here are three to consider and three to avoid, no explanations necessary ...

Three starts

Jason Hansen, Lions

Neil Rackers, Texans

Billy Cundiff, Ravens

Three sits

Jay Feely, Cardinals

Phil Dawson, Browns

Dan Carpenter, Dolphins

Eric Mack writes fantasy for, including the Start 'Em, Sit 'Em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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