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Fantasy Fodder: Time to feed on desperation

We're just three weeks into the fantasy football season, but winless owners, their playoff hopes already teetering on the brink, are starting to get desperate. Some of your friends and family members likely fall into this category, but you shouldn't feel bad for them. Fantasy football is a cutthroat leisure activity, and you must take advantage of the misfortunes of others — even if it makes things a little awkward during the holidays.

Owners in need of wins ASAP to make sure their team is still relevant a month from now will be looking for quick fixes. Maybe they're reeling from the loss of Ryan Grant. Maybe they're losing their patience with Larry Fitzgerald. Maybe they had a terrible draft and need capable players to fill out their starting lineup.

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Their desperation will continue to build as the losses pile up, but it's not too early to make moves that will strengthen your roster for the long haul, even if your team is sitting pretty right now. Sell high. Buy low.

Ravens running back Ray Rice is a good example.

Hailed by many — this guy included — as a slam-dunk top-four fantasy pick, Rice has yet to flex in the end zone in 2010. He is averaging fewer than 100 total yards a game. And he banged up his knee against the Browns. Those counting on Rice to carry their fantasy teams have been disappointed. Call me stubborn, but I believe Rice is going to get on a roll here shortly (once that knee is OK).

So if you have extra depth on your roster or if you were lucky enough to pick up guys such as Arian Foster and Peyton Hillis early in the season, use it to your advantage while they are still red hot. Dangle one of those guys as bait in a mega-deal, and you never know, you might get a slow-starting stud like Rice, Fitzgerald or Maurice Jones-Drew. They'll get it going for the fantasy playoff run — thus the awkward family gatherings a couple of months from now.

Fantasy penthouse:

Michael Vick (291 passing yards and three TDs, 30 rushing yards and one rushing TD), Anquan Boldin (eight catches for 142 yards and three TDs), Adrian Peterson (190 total yards, two scores), Dustin Keller (six catches for 98 yards and two TDs)

Fantasy doghouse:

Brett Favre (201 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT v. Detroit), Miles Austin (two catches, 20 yards), Matt Forte (29 rushing yards), Vernon Davis (three catches, 22 yards)

Start 'em or sit 'em:

Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders: Start 'em. Yes, really. Gradkowski will put up big numbers against Houston's secondary — the NFL's most vulnerable unit

Vernon Davis, 49ers: Sit 'em. Davis isn't on the same page as Alex Smith — honestly, who is? — so sit him out against the Falcons if you have a decent second option

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: Start 'em. The Ravens' front seven got worked by Hillis and the Browns, so you have to figure Mendenhall will post double-digit fantasy numbers Sunday

Peyton Hillis, Browns: Sit 'em. Speaking of Hillis, I'm not feeling his matchup against the Bengals

Kevin Walter, Texans: Start 'em. With Nnamdi Asomugha latched onto Andre Johnson all afternoon, Walter will get a bunch of looks (so will Jacoby Jones). If Johnson doesn't play, forget I said anything

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Donovan McNabb, Redskins: Sit 'em. My gut is telling me McNabb will try to do too much and implode against the Eagles in his return to Philadelphia. If you only got fantasy points when your quarterback threw up in the huddle during double overtime...

The wire:

If Dustin Keller is still available, what are you waiting for? ... Lance Moore put up big numbers last week, so he's worth a look. I wouldn't start him, though, until he shows that it wasn't a fluke. ... If you're desperate for QB help, consider Mark Sanchez. I hope I'm never that desperate, though. ... Mario Manningham has put up at least seven fantasy points in each of his games this season, making him a solid option as a third receiver. ... BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the Patriots' starting running back right now, if that's something you're interested in. ... Keep an eye on Packers back John Kuhn. He might pull a Peyton Hillis and overtake Brandon Jackson soon. ... Kyle Orton is once again fantasy relevant. How does this guy do it?

Ray Rice (knee) is questionable for Sunday's game, and if he doesn't play, don't be afraid to start McGahee against the Steelers. ... Andre Johnson reaggravated his ankle injury and is day-to-day. Play him if he's a go on Sunday, but keep your expectations low as he's matched up against Asomugha. ... Steven Jackson (groin) should play, but keep an eye on his status over the weekend. ... Jahvid Best (toe) is questionable, and hopefully the injury doesn't nag him all season. ... Knowshon Moreno (hammy) probably won't play. ... Ryan Mathews (ankle) is expected to return.

You make the call:

Which player would you rather have going forward this season: Austin Collie or Jeremy Maclin?

Reader question of the week:

Reader Dan Frank (who once threatened to beat me up if he saw me in public and now emails me for fantasy advice on the reg) wants to know: "What do you think about Marion Barber and Felix Jones?? Jones is on the wire, and I can get Barber in a trade. My bench is Jerome Harrison, [Willis] McGahee, and [Justin] Forsett. I think one of the boys' backs has to pick it up soon, no? That would greatly improve my flex play. CJ, and Gore are my starters."

Dan, I'd go with Felix Jones. Your starting lineup is set at the moment with Chris Johnson and Frank Gore, and Jones has the most upside over the long haul (of course, we keep hearing this and we are still waiting to see it week in and week out). I wouldn't feel comfortable starting either Jones or Barber at this point, but it makes sense to stash Jones on your bench just in case he finally breaks out. I'd drop Harrison, who has lost his job to the immortal Peyton Hillis.

Extra point:

I'd sell high on Collie, Walter and Brandon Lloyd — all top-10 wideouts through three weeks. There's no way they can keep their current up at their current paces, especially Collie, who has exploded for 359 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Get rid of them while they're hot.

My weekly Fantasy Fodder column will run in some fashion on the Virtual Vensanity blog every Wednesday. E-mail your fantasy questions to matt@btheite.com, Tweet them to twitter.com/mattvensel or leave them in the comments section below. Carrier pigeons are also acceptable.

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