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How will Big Ben's return impact Steelers?

12/5/2012

While all the talk at Pittsburgh Steelers practice this week centers around injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the thing is, Big Ben really isn't a great fantasy option even if he does suit up for Week 14. That assertion is backed up by the group rankings. After all, Roethlisberger hasn't played in a month, and while many blame the Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown production problems on Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, the team's passing game wasn't exactly shining even before Roethlisberger suffered his rib injury.

The Steelers' running game, on the other hand, piques my interest more, because while Roethlisberger's status likely will remain problematic into the weekend, we know who is starting at running back. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has already announced that Jonathan Dwyer will handle the rushing load against the San Diego Chargers, a team in disarray. Dwyer has had moments of productivity this season, though not consistently. He topped 100 rushing yards in Weeks 7 and 8, and last week in Baltimore he scored his first touchdown on a stellar 16-yard run. I get the feeling the best could be yet to come.

Dwyer shows up in my rankings at No. 19, the highest rank of the group, because let's face it, there aren't a ton of safe, reliable running backs for this week. Also, I simply like Dwyer. Rashard Mendenhall isn't totally out of the picture, though he didn't dress last week and Tomlin claims he'll get another chance at some point. But it won't be in Week 14. Isaac Redman has backup written all over him. Frankly, I think Roethlisberger will play, but will be far from 100 percent, and the Steelers will really lean on the running game. By the way, the Chargers have been skewered on the ground the past three weeks, allowing 133, 131 and 123 rushing yards, respectively, and it wasn't Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster doing that damage, either. I ranked Roethlisberger in nearly the same spot at quarterback as I did Dwyer at his position, but most people can use only one quarterback and perhaps as many as three running backs. To me, Dwyer is definitely worth using and is a bit underrated.

Quarterback: Look at the matchups. Josh Freeman and Eli Manning get to face the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, respectively, the two easiest defenses for opposing quarterbacks to accrue fantasy points against. The Eagles have permitted an astounding 94 fantasy points to quarterbacks over the past three weeks. Freeman is going off. And Manning is fine, too. I have both over Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck. ... I'm easily highest on Russell Wilson. With five consecutive games of 15 or more fantasy points, including one at Soldier Field in Chicago, he's matchup-proof, in my mind. I'm lowest on Colin Kaepernick, though at No. 14 I still like him. Wilson was last intercepted in October. He can be trusted. If Kaepernick makes more foolish mistakes like he did in Week 13, he could be pulled.

Running back: We know LeSean McCoy is not playing this week, so I think it's justifiable to place Bryce Brown in the top 10. He does have 53 fantasy points in two weeks, after all. ... My issue with Matt Forte, and my reasoning for him being only No. 21, is this: He has been awfully average for a month, failing to exceed 3.1 yards per carry in any game, probably because he's hurting, and when the Bears get up early Sunday, we'll see more of Michael Bush. ... My issue with Stevan Ridley, and why he's barely a RB2 for me this week, is all about the matchup against the Houston Texans. Similarly, the Patriots stop the run, so Arian Foster was not in my top 3. Rookies Doug Martin and Trent Richardson are simply better plays. ... If Darren McFadden can prove he's healthy Thursday, I'll trust him more in Week 15. I'm not convinced at the moment, plus it's easy to project the Raiders getting obliterated and Carson Palmer throwing the ball 50 times. ... Drop James Starks. He's done. But he wasn't in my top 30 anyway. Neither is Alex Green. Don't use Ryan Grant, again a Packer, this week. ... Montell Owens might get all the Jacksonville Jaguars love, but when he turns those 16 carries into 52 yards, you won't be pleased. A better sleeper choice is Vick Ballard.

Wide receiver: A month ago, it would have been unimaginable to see the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Danario Alexander or even Pierre Garcon in the top 20 at this position, or close to it. Go with the hot hands in December, not underachieving big names like Mike Wallace or Larry Fitzgerald. ... Is it possible we all took the lack of Eric Decker production too far in his No. 27 staff ranking? Perhaps. But I like 31 other wide receivers more. ... Yeah, I think Greg Jennings is relevant again, and Jordy Nelson will likely sit. Randall Cobb was my top Packers wide receiver, regardless of who else Aaron Rodgers is throwing to. ... Deeper-league guys to watch include Chris Givens against the Bills, Jeremy Kerley against the Jaguars and Golden Tate, who has three 15-point fantasy games over the past month, against Arizona.