NFL Fantasy Line

Week-nine of the NFL season arrives with numerous questions remaining to be answered around the league. From the pretenders to contenders, the second-half of the season begins and injuries will continue to play a significant role in the fortunes of NFL teams, as well as those Fantasy Players we all have become.

Who to play, who to run from and some player news and notes in today's week-nine roundup.

Quarterbacks

The 49ers Tim Rattay returned to practice this week and will start against the Seahawks, but you may want to consider other alternatives as he faces a tough Seattle secondary.

Running Backs

The Eagles will have Brian Westbrook back in the line up after he missed last week's game due to a cracked rib. The running back returned to practice on Thursday despite feeling pain. He can do no further damage to the ribs so how much he plays will depend on how good he is feeling.

It is uncertain whether Duce Staley will be able to play against his former Eagles team. He will be a game-time decision as he nurses a tight hamstring. There is a good chance he'll play, but he will be limited which makes Jerome Bettis a highly attractive play for the Steelers this week.

If you've been enjoying the run put on by Vikings rookie Mewelde Moore, it's time to find a replacement. Moore will be held out of Monday night's game with an ankle sprain and will most likely lose his starting spot for good. Michael Bennett starts this week with Onterrio Smith and Moe Williams backing him up. Whoever gets into a groove will stay on the field making all Vikings running backs a risky pick.

Keep on eye on the Panthers running back situation. Stephen Davis will be a game-time decision after a very positive week of practice. If he is unable to go, Brad Hoover would start and Joey Harris would play a prominent role in the offense as a change of pace back again.

Even though he is listed as questionable, Thomas Jones is out Sunday and could miss the next few weeks making Anthony Thomas an excellent rental. Thomas had 144 total yards last week and the Bears will look to control the clock against the Giants.

Tyrone Wheatley returns to his starting role against the Panthers in place of Amos Zereoue who did an adaquete job filling in.

Wide Receivers

Just in case you didn't get the memo, Randy Moss is out Monday night because of his strained hamstring. Marcus Robinson becomes the number one guy for fantasy purposes.

The Seahawks receivers are making the team trainers work overtime this week. With Bobby Engram and Jerry Rice likely to miss the 49ers game, Darrell Jackson will be forced into action with a sprained ankle. If the Seahawks get the passing game going it will primarily be through Koren Robinson.

Once again, the Lions will enter Sunday's game against the Redskins not knowing if they will have their star rookie Roy Williams. Williams is a game-time decision and it would probably be better to bench him this week after he burned many fantasy owners last week.

The Bengals have placed Peter Warrick on the injured reserve which makes T.J. Houshmanzadeh a decent back up for the remainder of the season.

Tight Ends

After initial reports that he might play, the Ravens will be without Todd Heap for the sixth straight game.

Start: Chargers WR Eric Parker -- He is going to be given more room with Keenan McCardell now on the other side. And he proved it Sunday with 13 catches for 138 yards the past two games. Many of them came in traffic, and he held on to the football despite getting hammered.

Sit: 49ers TE Eric Johnson -- He saw double coverage on just about every pass play against the Bears. Johnson, who is not known as a physical tight end, was beaten up by linemen and linebackers at the line of scrimmage before getting to the safeties, who had primary coverage. As a result, Johnson had his worst game, with one catch for just 9 yards, and doesn't have the passing game around him to draw less attention any time soon.

Start: Browns WR Andre Davis -- He practiced Friday and coach Butch Davis said he expects him to start after missing a game with a toe injury.

Sit: Vikings RB Mewelde Moore -- He was downgraded to questionable Friday with a sprained left ankle and missed practice for a third consecutive day. Moore was already looking at decreased carries with Onterrio Smith returning from a suspension and Michael Bennett in his third game back from injury.

Start: Bucs RB Michael Pittman -- He expects to have an increased workload Sunday against Kansas City with the injury to FB Mike Alstott. Pittman, who had 109 yards against Chicago, will fill Alstott's role in short-yardage and goal line situations.

Sit: Eagles RB Brian Westbrook -- It's tempting to start him after the Eagles said Friday that he's likely to play. What coach Andy Reid didn't say was how much Westbrook would play. He might carry a full load - or he might get only a few snaps.

Start: Seahawks WR Jerry Rice -- Yes, he sprained his ankle last Sunday. But he felt very good in practice by the end of the week and fellow receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram will either be out or limited Sunday. Plus, Rice is going back to San Francisco and facing backup corners forced into starting roles due to injuries.

Sit: Bears RB Thomas Jones -- He has a foot injury that will keep him out Sunday, and quite possibly three weeks. If you're looking for a short-term back for your roster, Anthony Thomas proved last Sunday night he can produce when given the opportunity.

Start: Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin -- He is expected to start in the team's three-receiver set in Miami. Boldin played in about half the offensive plays last week in Buffalo and performed well in his season debut.

Sit: Jets WR Wayne Chrebet -- He was downgraded to questionable with a sore lower back and did not practice Friday. He will be a game-time decision.

Start: Lions RB Kevin Jones -- He is still looking for his breakout game, and he might get it with coach Steve Mariucci talking again about a greater commitment to the running game. The Lions ran only 13 running plays in their 31-21 loss at Dallas and have a very average run-blocking offensive line, which are two things to consider before inserting Jones into your starting lineup.

Sit: Ravens TE Todd Heap -- He is expected to miss his sixth consecutive game with a sprained ankle that is taking longer than expected to heal. Ravens coach Brian Billick said their is nothing structurally wrong with the ankle.

Start: Giants WR Amani Toomer -- He thought he might miss the game last week vs. Minnesota (strained hamstring), but played anyway and said this Sunday he should be at 100 percent strength. "It was a strain, not a pull," he said. "I still had strength in the leg and I could still run. It just hurt."

Sit: Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson -- He has a sprained ankle and will be a game-time decision Sunday. "Jackson is making good strides, so that will be a Sunday decision with Jackson," coach Mike Holmgren said Friday.

Start: Raiders RB Tyrone Wheatley -- He who went down with a shoulder injury in Houston on Oct. 3, and is expected to start for the first time since then. That gives the Raiders the power running game that Norv Turner installed to help shake loose the deep

Jags Deception?

There have been conflicting reports on the status of Byron Leftwich. Originally the Jaguars feared he may be lost for the season, but after further evaluation they have stated it is possible he returns after the week 9 bye. More tests are to be taken and we will have a clearer picture by Monday.

The Ravens will have Jamal Lewis back in uniform as he has finished serving his two-game suspension. Some of the inexperienced fantasy owners panicked and traded Lewis when they learned he was going to be suspended. But veteran owners know that the season is a marathon, not a race and they will be rewarded down the stretch run and into their league's playoffs.

On the injury front, Randy Moss will be held out of this week's game against the Colts. Marcus Robinson is expected to play and serves as the best replacement for Moss. Roy Williams will be a game-time decision again. Playing him is a gamble, but it could be a gamble that pays off. Tim Rattay has returned to practice, but his status is still uncertain. The 49ers are counting on him to play, but there are no guarantees.

Short-term?

This week we have an excellent fantasy rental, the Bears Anthony Thomas. Starter Thomas Jones will be out again this week and could possibly miss a few weeks with a foot injury.

Filling in for Jones last week, Thomas rushed for 98 yards and also chipped in 46 receiving yards. He should have a similar type game against the Giants this week. With a rookie quarterback, the Bears will need to set the tone with the running game against a tough Giants team.

Thomas was the starter for the Bears last season so this is not unfamiliar territory. Should Jones miss an extended period of time, Thomas could give you a spark for the next few weeks. This week you could expect another 100 yards rushing and a few receptions coming out of the backfield.

Just a thought

Very few know Panthers rookie running back Joey Harris. After this week he may be very well known. The scat-back out of Purdue went undrafted after a lustrous career for the Boilermakers as he provided many highlight reel making plays.

With all the injuries that have occurred to the Panthers backs, Harris has found himself right in the thick of things this week as they face the Raiders. The Panthers have lost DeShaun Foster to a season ending injury and Stephen Davis and Rod Smart have been unable to play with injuries of their own.

While Brad Hoover has assumed the starting job, Harris could overtake him with a solid outing this Sunday. In limited action last week Harris carried the ball 9 times for 145 yards earning himself some extra playing time. If you can afford to stash him on your bench until this week unfolds it could be very well worth it. If not, keep a close eye on him and be prepared to make a roster move Sunday afternoon.

Quarterbacks
Drew Brees (+) - Has shown great maturity in his third season. Maybe drafting Philip Rivers wasn't necessary.
Drew Bledsoe (-) - If there is any way that J.P. Losman is able to return from his _ injury, that will be the end for Bledsoe.

Running Backs
Willis McGahee (+) - Has proved to come full circle returning from knee injury and can be a game-breaking featured back.
Amos Zereoue (-) - With the return of Tyrone Wheatley and Zereoue's lousy performance last week, you will see the carries shift more towards Wheatley.

Wide Receivers
Keenan McCardell (+) - Has been a great fit for San Diego since coming over in a trade for Tampa Bay. He's just getting warmed up.
Jerry Rice (-) - Just when it was thought that Rice would once again be able to contribute, he gets injured.

Tight Ends
Alge Crumpler (+) - Starting to resemble the end we came to know from last season.
George Wrighster (-) - Return of Kyle Brady has diminished his role.

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