Eric Mack
Sunday December 11th, 2011

You want to know why it is so darn tough to win fantasy football titles: The sure things never are. And sometimes the lost ones wind up becoming your leaders.

It is very difficult to win wire-to-wire, but those who have stayed patient with Matt Ryan and Shonn Greene -- two first-half pariahs -- are likely enjoying a run a week deeper into the fantasy postseason. Remember when fantasy owners were unhappy with them? Now, they're carrying them.

This time of year is all about survival.

And, cursing the disappearance of previous studs like Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson and Chris Johnson this week.

If you made it through with them laying eggs this week, though, these guys are going to pay you back when the fantasy matchups mean even more next Sunday. The late Al Davis said it best: "Just win, baby."

Hopefully, you did.

We break down all the action game-by-game from a fantasy perspective in the Week 14 Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

• Demarco Murray (fractured ankle) is out for the season and Felix Jones will capably take over. Jones will be a must-start in all leagues against the Bucs next week. Pick him up, if he was dropped by a desperate team. The Bucs are the worst team in fantasy against RBs.

• Tony Romo was able to sustain three strong fantasy performers in the passing game -- Laurent Robinson, the returning Miles Austin and Dez Bryant -- making all of solid starts in crunch time. Jason Witten was held quiet, but he should remain active in all formats, too. The Bucs are in the bottom half against TEs, too.

• Eli Manning has gone over 4,000 passing yards again, putting him in elite class behind just Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. That is some company. He faces a team in Washington that he hasn't had great numbers against historically, but he has earned the right to remain active -- especially with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham all healthy at the same time finally. Jake Ballard was productive here, too, and the Redskins are the third-worst team in fantasy against TEs.

• Brandon Jacobs had a surprising game, going over 100 yards with a pair of scores against a top-10 team in fantasy against RBs. It was partially due to the first-half team-held suspension of Ahmad Bradshaw, though. Bradshaw will be the better play against the Redskins.

• Marshawn Lynch, with 115 yards and a touchdown, continues to be a fantasy MVP, but this might be the last big week you can expect from him. He faces the Bears and 49ers in the next two weeks. You have to start Lynch, but both have good run defenses.

• Steven Jackson held up real well against an underrated Seattle run defense, going for 63 yards on the ground, 60 through the air and a TD. His stretch run is brutally tough like Lynch's, too. Jackson faces the Bengals, Steelers and 49ers in the final three weeks.

• You probably shouldn't trust Doug Baldwin in most fantasy playoffs, but the rookie's emergence in Seattle with Sidney Rice out is noteworthy for keeper leagues and 2012 drafts.

• Sam Bradford's sophomore season has been a disaster. He looked a lot more capable as a rookie and without Josh McDaniels, who might not be back. He at least has a go-to receiver in Brandon Lloyd, but he needs more help than that. Lloyd remains a solid starter in deeper formats, even with the tough stretch schedule.

• Matt Ryan has gotten hot and proven to be a must-start QB again. The return to health and dominance by Julio Jones certainly helps, too.

• Jacquizz Rodgers got involved as a pass receiver and should get more looks as a runner with Michael Turner not performing to his past level. Rodgers is a decent sleeper if you're desperate for a flex option.

• Save for a fluke 74-yard TD, the Panthers running game was worthless against the Falcons run defense. D'Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart split carries too much to trust them, particularly against a solid Texans run defense next week.

• Cam Newton was able to get Steve Smith and both his tight ends back in the fantasy mix. Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey both found the end zone. Only Newton and Smith will be good plays against the Texans next week, though.

• Shonn Greene is rewarding patient fantasy owners. He is a must-start against the Eagles' run defense next week. LaDainian Tomlinson's return to health hasn't impacted Greene at all, and a banged up Joe McKnight helps keep Greene's carries total high, too.

• Mark Sanchez had a huge week thanks to being a TD vulture. He shouldn't be considered a top 12 option against the Eagles next week.

• The Chiefs running game stinks, so avoid all of their running back options next week against the Packers. The receivers will be the good plays, though. Dwayne Bowe will be a must start, even with Tyler Palko under center, while Steve Breaston might be a sleeper.

• Ryan Grant came alive against one of the worst teams in fantasy against RBs. If James Starks is out against the Chiefs, consider starting Grant as needed.

• Greg Jennings' leg injury makes Donald Driver a viable pick-up for Week 15. Jordy Nelson will be a must-start. James Jones might even return to fantasy viability. Track Jennings' status closely if you need Driver or Jones.

• Carson Palmer was bad in what should have been a good matchup. We should have known the most error-prone quarterback was going to struggle against the best take-away secondary in football. Palmer isn't going to be a great play against the Lions next week.

• Darrius Heyward-Bey has at least finally developed something with Palmer. DHB is a low-end option, though, because Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore might return next week.

• Michael Bush held up very well against the Packers run defense. He might need to sit in fantasy if Darren McFadden (ankle) finally makes it back.

• Kevin Kolb gave way early to John Skelton due to injury, but it didn't affect Larry Fitzgerald. Heck, even Early Doucet and Andre Roberts found the end zone for fantasy owners. The Browns are not a great matchup for quarterbacks or receivers next week.

• Kendall Hunter has cut into Frank Gore's production and carries, but Gore remains a must-start in all leagues. The Steelers run defense is a tough matchup.

• Beanie Wells was a bum against the 49ers run defense, but the Browns should give him a lot more room to run next week. Start Wells in all leagues. n Michael Crabtree hasn't been great, but he has at least been more consistent. He is a decent option in PPR leagues as Alex Smith's go-to man.

• Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas came to life late in the fourth quarter. It is hard to predict which receiver will be Tebow's man week to week, but Thomas and Eric Decker will both be viable plays against the Pats. New England is the worst team in fantasy against quarterbacks and wide receivers. Tebow will be a must-start, too. He'll be more than merely a fourth-quarter guy next week.

• Marion Barber had the costly fumble, but he did go over 100 yards with a touchdown. He will be a decent option against the Seahawks next week, even if that is a decent run defense.

• Caleb Hanie didn't throw a pick this time, but he doesn't do anything for any of the Bears receivers, who should all be avoided in fantasy now.

• Philip Rivers continues to make up for his bad stretch, throwing three touchdowns. It sure has helped to have a healthy Antonio Gates. Next week presents a much tougher matchup in the Ravens, but Rivers likely has earned must-start status back.

• Ryan Mathews has earned that, too, even if Mike Tolbert is a touchdown vulture. Mathews will be busy in the passing game against the Ravens, if he gets bottled up on the ground. Tolbert is less likely to be useful next week, because of that tough run defense.

• Stevie Johnson looks like the only Bills fantasy option worth running out there in crunch time. Ryan Fitzpatrick was bad here and C.J. Spiller wasn't used as much as he should have been. The Dolphins have a tough run defense, so Spiller will be a bad play.

• Brandon Pettigrew was revived after weeks of silence. He might be available to you off waivers and is a viable start against the Raiders next week. Don't worry about Calvin Johnson. Matthew Stafford is going to find him more next week. Keep Megatron active in crunch time.

• Percy Harvin's hot streak continues. He remains a must-start now, even if Joe Webb is picked to start over rookie Christian Ponder, who was benched after three picks. We should expect Ponder to get his job back, but Webb's scrambling does make it an interesting decision.

• Toby Gerhart will continue to be an intriguing option if Adrian Peterson doesn't play next week against the Saints.

• Keiland Williams outdistanced Maurice Morris in Kevin Smith's absence. If Smith is out next week against the Raiders, Williams will be a viable start against the suspect Raiders run defense.

• Rookie Titus Young is a potential sleeper down the stretch, if you need a stopgap receiver.

• The Redskins had a lot of success through the air and should again next week against the Giants. It makes Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney, Santana Moss and even Donte' Stallworth viable options in deeper leagues next week.

• Deion Branch was blanked and left with a groin injury. If Branch is out, Chad Ochocinco might finally be someone to consider off waivers.

• BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't even given a chance, getting just five carries -- one of which went for 13 yards. He should be far busier against the Broncos next week, but the uncertainty of the Pats offense and running game makes BGE a risky play.

• Roy Helu enjoyed another big week. He is a must-start back down the stretch. The Giants haven't been great against the run.

• Jake Locker looks like he has a real bright future, which is noteworthy for keeper leagues more than any playing time he gets down the stretch. He helped make Nate Washington a monster this week. Damian Williams was mostly quiet, despite a 54-yard catch. Washington looks like the better play if Locker is under center with Matt Hasselbeck dealing with a calf issue.

• It was Chris Ivory and not Pierre Thomas who stepped forward in Mark Ingram's absence. Only Darren Sproles in PPR leagues is a good play against the Vikings underrated run defense next week.

• Robert Meachem expectedly slipped back to being a non-factor. Only Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham are trustworthy receivers for Drew Brees and fantasy owners.

• Chris Johnson's hot streak hit a snag here, but he is a must-start against the Colts run defense next week.

• Reggie Bush has completely distanced himself from Daniel Thomas in the Dolphins running game. He looks like a solid start against the Bills suspect run defense, while Thomas is a must-sit.

• If J.P. Losman is forced to play for Matt Moore next week, we might consider Anthony Fasano a sleeper and Brandon Marshall a candidate to sit. Moore left with a head injury that will need to be evaluated this week.

• Michael Vick wasn't good in his return, but he did help DeSean Jackson wake up. Jeremy Maclin was mostly a non-factor and Riley Cooper went back to being a nobody. Jackson will be a solid play going forward. Cooper can be cut. Maclin needs to be monitored. Vick won't be a great start against the Jets defense next week.

• Arian Foster has a rare quiet game, but he remains a must-start. The worry is teams are going to load up in the box with T.J. Yates at QB, but that late rally has to given the Texans confidence in Yates. Ben Tate should also be active in a lot of leagues against the Panthers run defense next week.

• Yates isn't a fantasy option, but with Andre Johnson out, Yates does enough for Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter to use them in fantasy, perhaps.

• Cedric Benson held up well against an elite run defense and looks like he will be a must-start against the bad Rams run defense next week.

• Joe Flacco rebounded with a pair of scores, which should get him back in your starting lineups down the stretch, along with rookie Torrey Smith, who reeled in a TD.

• Dan Orlovsky isn't necessarily better for us in fantasy (for the receiver production) than Curtis Painter was, although the Ravens defense had something to do with that. Dallas Clark is back, so consider him a sleeper in deeper formats, though.

• The Colts running back situation continues to be a three-way split and Donald Brown, Joseph Addai and Delone Carter should all be avoided.

• The Bucs are one of the best matchups for opposing backs. They were abused by Maurice Jones-Drew here and Demarco Murray owners will love the matchup next week.

• Blaine Gabbert is all backs and tight ends in the passing game, but his improvement might make Marcedes Lewis a sleeper finally.

• Josh Freeman returned to health, but he should remain on fantasy benches, if not waivers. Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow both took a disappointing step back with Freeman here.

• Antonio Brown was a monster in what should have been a tough matchup, moving him into the must-start category among receivers now. He has even passed Mike Wallace, perhaps.

• Ben Roethlisberger ill-advisedly played through a high-ankle sprain and will be a bad play at San Francisco, if he even tries to play. It should affect your plays with the Steelers receivers. It is a tough defense and Charlie Batch might not make Brown or Wallace great options.

• Rashard Mendenhall failed in what should have been a great matchup, so starting him against the No. 1 run defense in NFL is a bad move next week.

• The Browns figure to be a sit-all against the Cardinals next week, particularly if Colt McCoy sits out after his concussion.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, 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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