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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Prepare for the worst

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For the moment, let's say Arian Foster actually does miss a couple weeks to begin the season. Shoot, let's say he misses the entire season, and you already drafted him.

He won't, but it's a hypothetical. Just roll with it.

Surely you drafted him in the first round, and surely you expected him to be the most important player on your team. Is that it, then? Is your season over before it even begins?

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What if you also drafted Ben Tate? What if he claims the starting job right away? What if he becomes what Arian Foster was, as so many people predicted for him before he broke his ankle last year? What if Foster's injury ends up being the best thing that ever happened to you in Fantasy?

That whole best-case scenario wouldn't even have to happen for you to have a good Fantasy season. Truth is most people don't think Foster himself will be who he was last year. If they did, he'd be a slam-dunk first overall pick. Provided he's healthy, he'll be a high-end running back for sure, but that's hardly an unreachable star.

High-end production comes from unexpected sources every year. It could come from a late-rounder like Tate. It could come from a middle-rounder like Daniel Thomas or Tim Hightower. As long as you were able to get Foster's high-end production from a place you didn't necessarily expect to get it, you could survive our hypothetical scenario.

The key to consistency in Fantasy Football is how well you prepare for the unforeseen. Football is the least predictable of the major sports because of the shortened timeframe and the heightened injury risk. If you're fortunate enough to have a known risk, you have to back it up properly.

It's true for a gimpy Foster or a rehabbing Peyton Manning.

In a 14-team league, would I be OK backing up Peyton Manning with a player like Cam Newton? It's hard to get a good backup quarterback in a 14-team league because you'll end up with crummy backups at running back, wide receiver and tight end. -- Frankie White (via Facebook)

SW: You're absolutely right, Frankie. As much as I extolled the depth of the quarterback position last week, pointing out that the top 15 options are all worthy starters in Fantasy, the depth vanishes when you add just two more teams to the equation. Suddenly, only one Fantasy owner can get a starting-caliber backup -- maybe two if you include Jay Cutler as the 16th name on that list. To make sure you're that owner, you have to reach for your second quarterback at the point in the draft when you might be looking to land your third running back or starting tight end instead.

So in our most recent 14-team draft, I changed my approach at quarterback, placing a greater emphasis on reliability. I still didn't shell out for an early-rounder like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers, but I wasn't as willing to gamble on an unproven like Josh Freeman or Matthew Stafford. Instead, I went for a quarterback in Round 5 who nobody has any real reason to doubt: Matt Schaub. Tony Romo would have also worked, as would have Matt Ryan. Draft one of those three, and you can afford to wait on a backup.

If it's too late -- if you already have Manning and can't backtrack and take a new No. 1 -- then I'm sorry, but you have to be that guy who reaches for Joe Flacco or Sam Bradford or whoever the last of the big 15 might be. At that position, the stakes are too high. It's the largest percentage of your team's total more weeks than not.

What if Manning's neck injury sidelines him for four weeks instead of just one? What if, considering all the time he has missed, he doesn't get comfortable until Week 7 or 8? I'll be the first to say it's unlikely, but it's too plausible for you to gamble your whole season on it. If you're starting an unproven Cam Newton during that time, you'll lose most of the time, no matter what the rest of your team looks like.

Is DeSean Jackson an upgrade over Brandon Marshall in a 12-team points-per-reception league? -- Pete Aydt (via Twitter)

SW: That would seem like the right answer here since Jackson was more relevant to Fantasy owners last year, but at the risk of losing my credibility, I'm going to say Marshall is actually the better choice in your particular format.

Say what you will about Marshall's first season in Miami, but he caught a ton of passes. His 86 receptions in 14 games gave him more per game (6.1) than Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or even Wes Welker. He had four games with 10 catches or more, which is like scoring two touchdowns in leagues that reward a full point per reception.

Jackson is the antithesis of a possession receiver. Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat to take it to the end zone, which you could argue makes him the more valuable player in real life. But in PPR leagues, where opportunity is weighted just as heavily as production, the quick score isn't necessarily such a good thing. It may put Jackson and Marshall on equal footing as far as yardage and touchdowns go, but the receptions set Marshall apart.

Let's say Jackson sets a career high this year with 64 catches. Let's say Marshall does what he likely would have done in a full 16 games last year and finishes with 100 catches. That's a difference of 36 points on receptions alone. It's like six touchdowns.

Now, you could point out that Marshall finished with only three touchdowns last year and that nine isn't such an unreasonable number for Jackson. But if you're throwing reasonability into the equation, you can't expect Marshall to score only three touchdowns again. With all the passes he caught between the end zones, the lack of touchdowns was a fluke beyond reason. No matter how little faith you have in the Dolphins offense, Marshall's presence in the red zone gives him a good chance of at least doubling his touchdown total. Shoot, law of averages alone says he will.

I don't know about you, but as much as I like Jackson's potential, I can't reasonably predict him to score 12 touchdowns this season. When you break down the numbers that way, the better option is clearly Marshall.

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My commissioner set interceptions to be worth minus-4 points in an otherwise standard 12-team league. Do I need to draft a quarterback in first round? -- David Perez (via Twitter)

SW: Let's see ... some of the quarterbacks who threw the fewest interceptions last year were Josh Freeman (six), Matt Cassel (seven), Kyle Orton (nine) and Joe Flacco (10), while two of the quarterbacks who threw the most were Drew Brees (22) and Peyton Manning (17).

No, I'm not sensing a strong correlation between average draft position and number of interceptions.

I'll admit some correlation. The best quarterbacks make fewer mistakes and are therefore less susceptible to interceptions. Tom Brady threw only four last year. Michael Vick threw only six. That said, if each threw more than a dozen this year, it wouldn't surprise anybody. Brady threw 13 as recently as 2009, and Vick, though obviously one of the better quarterbacks in Fantasy, is known more for his footwork than his accuracy and decision-making.

The bottom line is interceptions are relatively unpredictable from one year to the next. Though ability is a factor, so is plain, dumb luck. And opportunity might be the biggest factor of all. The quarterbacks who throw the most often -- i.e., the most valuable in Fantasy -- are at higher risk for interceptions and often end up throwing more than the Jason Campbells and Mark Sanchezes of the world.

Interceptions might sting a little more in your league than most, but a high-end quarterback isn't necessarily the remedy. If anything, the inflated penalty helps close the gap between a high-end guy like Brees and a low-end guy like Orton.

I suggest you do whatever you had already planned to do at quarterback. You probably shouldn't target quarterbacks with documented interception problems -- such as Jay Cutler and Eli Manning -- but otherwise, you shouldn't let the rule change alter your approach.

Not sure what I was thinking, but I drafted two rookies late: A.J. Green and Greg Little. Which one should I keep? I also grabbed Tim Hightower and Reggie Bush late. -- Hershell Tidwell (via Facebook)

SW: Is there a rule against owning two rookie wide receivers? Do you have to drop one? Assuming you have a good reason for it, I'd drop Little.

I have nothing against Little, but Green is one of those exceptional wide receiver prospects in the mold of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald who simply can't miss. He was a pro prospect from the first time he stepped on the field in college. Nobody questioned whether or not he'd be a first-round pick. The only thing stopping him was the required waiting period from the time he graduated high school.

Does that mean he'll instantly be a success in Fantasy? If he played for just about any other team, I'd say yes. Unfortunately, he plays for the Bengals, which means he'll have a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball, which means he'll probably be playing for one of the worst offenses in the league. If he's going to break through in Fantasy this year, he's going to have to do it on pure talent.

But honestly, is Little's situation any better? Has Colt McCoy proven all that much in Cleveland? Are the Browns known as some offensive powerhouse that turns any weapon into a Fantasy stud? Other than Peyton Hillis, can you name the last Brown who made a difference to your Fantasy team?

Look, I don't know what the future holds for the Browns -- or the Bengals, for that matter. But I know neither has much of a passing game right now. The difference for Green is he'll already be the go-to guy in the passing game as the early first-round pick and obvious replacement for departed All-Pro Chad Ochocinco. As a second-round pick, Little might still have to work his way up to that role.

Between these two specific players, it's less an issue of supporting cast than talent, and on talent alone, I'm predicting Green will have the better season.

As for drafting Hightower and Bush late, I'd be happy to get them in the middle rounds at this point in the preseason, with the cat out of the bag, so to speak. Nice job.

Should I trade Joseph Addai for Cedric Benson? -- Luther Villanueva (Twitter)

SW: Sounds like a good move to me, Luther. I don't mean to suggest the person trading Benson doesn't know what he's doing, but from what I can tell, it seems like an overreaction to a development that shouldn't have any real impact on the regular season.

No doubt, you'll find some Fantasy owners ready to pull the plug on Benson now that he's, you know, in jail. The idea of him going from a cell to the football field in less than two weeks sounds like fodder for the next Michael Lewis bestseller.

But it's exactly what's going to happen here.

With good behavior, Benson will have his 20-day sentence reduced to seven days or so, making him available for the start of the regular season. He has already had as much of a preseason as you'd expect any first-stringer to get, playing in each of the team's first three games. He'll be ready to go in Week 1, and come October, nobody will even be talking about his jail time anymore.

True, you could argue this move is one based strictly on expected performance and that Peyton Manning's neck injury will force the Colts to lean on Addai more than ever, but I don't buy it. By now, we know exactly who Addai is -- the first of a rushing rotation in a pass-heavy offense. He'll disappear as often as he produces, making him an unreliable starter on a week-to-week basis. Benson may not be the most talented running back, but he'll be the workhorse of a Bengals offense led by a rookie quarterback. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll at least get the opportunity to do something -- and that's as true for Week 1 as it is for Week 17.

I currently have Drew Brees as my starting quarterback and no backup on my roster. Should I pick up Colt McCoy? If yes, then I would need to drop one of the following: Pierre Garcon, Danny Amendola, Robert Meachem and Jonathan Stewart. Who should I drop? Should I take the risk now or wait until Week 11 to find a one-week replacement? My gut feeling is to wait it out. -- Rodel D. Samiley (via Facebook)

SW: I think your gut is pretty accurate this time, Rodel. I'm all about having a good backup quarterback, but if you're down to Colt McCoy as your best option, what's the point?

I realize McCoy has been picking up steam as a Fantasy sleeper. He had a couple of good preseason games, and I have to admit I was more encouraged than discouraged by his performance as a rookie last season.

But if you're going to peg him for a breakout season, why not peg Chad Henne or Alex Smith as well? Don't get me wrong: I'm not pegging either. But both have had more success than McCoy in their relatively young careers, and both have more favorable conditions for a breakout.

I'm guessing both Henne and Smith are also available on the waiver wire and that McCoy isn't the only guy out there. If I were you, I'd watch that waiver wire early in the season, and if one quarterback clearly distinguishes himself -- be it McCoy, Henne, Smith or someone else entirely -- then make your move, when you feel like you're getting something closer to a known commodity. If it never happens, fine. You'll worry about Week 11 when Week 11 gets here.

But don't go cutting one of Garcon, Amendola, Meachem and Stewart -- who are all surefire contributors in Fantasy -- for a relative shot in the dark. That's just reckless.

In a standard 12-team league, I have Arian Foster, Jahvid Best, Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas at running back and Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace and Mike Sims-Walker at wide receiver. I'll have my work cut out for me in Week 11 with so many players on bye. With no Foster or Ingram available, should I pick up a third option for that week or put my trust in Best and Thomas? With Wallace also unavailable for that week, should I pick up Arrelious Benn? -- David Williamson (via Facebook)

SW: Simmer down there, David. We haven't even gotten to Week 1 yet, and you're already thinking about Week 11.

I understand you'd like to have all your ducks in a row for the bye weeks, and I think it's a good idea in theory. But realistically, it's just not possible. So much of this game is so far beyond our control that some of the no-brainer moves now will seem like complete idiocy at the end of the season.

Teams everyone thought would be bad will be good. Teams everyone thought would be good will be bad. Players will overachieve. Players will underachieve. Players will get hurt. Players will come out of nowhere and single-handedly win Fantasy championships. And between it all, you might even make a trade or two.

Let's try a little exercise just for kicks. Print out the roster you have now and store it somewhere safe. When Week 11 gets here and you're saving up room for that Thanksgiving turkey, pull it out and compare it to the roster you have then. I'm guessing as much as half of it will have changed. Your team might even have a completely different identity than the one you envisioned. Just ask the guy who ended up with Michael Vick or Peyton Hillis last year.

How could you possibly have a plan in place for Week 11 with so much expected to change between now and then? Even if the critical week was Week 5, I wouldn't be worrying about it so much just yet.

I'm guessing the players you actually drafted are better than the ones you'd find on the waiver wire right now, especially if Benn is your best example, so sit tight. If Week 11 was happening today, you'd actually be able to fill a lineup, which is more than most Fantasy owners can say at this point in the season.

Someone offered me Lee Evans for Michael Bush. Bush is currently on my bench, and my starting wide receivers are Chad Ochocinco, Hines Ward and Malcom Floyd. Should I pull the trigger? -- Paul Chakmak (via Twitter)

SW: In a vacuum, I'd rate Evans and Bush at about the same level. Neither is a surefire starter in Fantasy just yet. Evans obviously is assured some production as a starter for the Ravens, but Bush is a proven backup for an injury-prone starter at the more critical position.

Without knowing how much depth you have at running back, I can't say for sure whether I'd take the deal, but since you seem to play in a league with three wide receiver spots, I'm leaning toward yes.

Just about every league starts two running backs and two wide receivers. Those spots are more or less set in stone. The designation of that fifth spot as either a flex spot or a third wide receiver spot determines whether I emphasize running back or wide receiver on Draft Day. Everything being equal, I'd rather take a running back because running backs generally play a more consistent role on offense and are harder to find in the middle and late rounds of the draft. But if the distribution isn't equal and every team has to start a wide receiver in that fifth spot, well ... let's just say if you don't draft a couple of surefire studs at that position, you probably won't find much help on the waiver wire.

You don't have a surefire stud at wide receiver, Paul. Ochocinco, Ward and Floyd are all secondary options on their respective teams, and the former two are obviously on the decline. Wide receiver is clearly a weak spot for your team, and if you honestly hope to compete this year, you'll need to do something about it sooner or later.

Is this move the move you need? Well, Evans is no surefire starter himself, but the added option couldn't hurt. He was always a good deep-ball threat in Buffalo but rarely had a quarterback who could deliver him the deep ball with any consistency. He has a good quarterback now in Joe Flacco, so I could see him putting together another 1,000-yard season.

Of course, the Ravens also have Anquan Boldin, and two 1,000-yard wide receivers might be too much to ask from that offense. Still, it's at least as much of a possibility for Evans as it is for Ochocinco, Ward and Floyd, so unless you were honestly counting on Bush to make a big contribution for your Fantasy team this year, I'd make the deal.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Nick Fairley appears unlikely to return Week 13
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:15 pm ET) Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who's been out since Week 8 with a knee injury, is not practicing this week. Fairley seems unlikely to return for Thursday's game against the Bears.

Bears LB Lance Briggs, CB Kyle Fuller miss practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:12 pm ET) Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) missed practice Tuesday as the team prepared for the Thanksgiving game at Detroit. Both left the Week 12 win over Tampa Bay and did not return.

Both starters could be gametime decisions Thursday.


49ers DE Justin Smith misses practice with back injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:44 pm ET) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith did not practice Tuesday due to a back injury, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters he'd be surprised if Smith missed Thursday's game against the Seahawks. Smith has 33 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles this season.

49ers RT Anthony Davis still out with concussion
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:39 pm ET) 49ers starting right tackle Anthony Davis, who sat out Week 12 with a concussion, was unable to practice Tuesday ahead of Thursday's game against the Seahawks.

C Max Unger's injury posing problems for Seahawks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:32 pm ET) Seahawks starting center Max Unger, who suffered a high ankle sprain Week 11, was unable to practice Tuesday as the team prepared for Thursday's game at the 49ers. Unger's absence was a big factor in Seattle allowing seven sacks Week 12 against Arizona.

Coach Pete Carroll told reporters he didn't know if Patrick Lewis would get another start at center, or if the team would go with recently-signed Lemuel Jeanpierre.


Coach: Cards got RB Michael Bush to 'close out games'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:23 pm ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told SiriusXM NFL Radio that the team signed running back Michael Bush because "we need a guy who's going to pound it in there and close out games for us." Bush, 30, scored 25 touchdowns over the past four seasons before getting released by the Bears.

Cardinals starter Andre Ellington has averaged under 3.0 yards per carry in three straight games and has rushed for three touchdowns this season.


Broncos TE Julius Thomas has 'a chance' to play Week 13
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:39 pm ET) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas sat out Week 12 due to his "severely sprained left ankle," but "there's a chance" he'll return for Sunday night's game at Kansas City, reports the Denver Post. More will be known Wednesday when Denver returns to practice.

"I have had better days, and I have had worse days," Thomas told the paper on Monday. "You hope you just wake up one day and it feels good again, but that didn't happen last week. But it has improved."

Thomas still leads the NFL with 12 touchdown catches.


Rams settling into three-receiver rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:25 pm ET) The Rams "seem to have settled into a three-man rotation at wide receiver," reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper noted Kenny Britt played 59 snaps at San Diego, followed by Tavon Austin (50) and Stedman Bailey (43).

Chris Givens played just 14 snaps and was not targeted.

St. Louis hosts the Raiders on Sunday.


Bengals TE Tyler Eifert might not return until playoffs
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:53 pm ET) The Bengals' official website suspects tight end Tyler Eifert won't be back for the stretch run, but will return for the playoffs. Eifert has been sidelined since suffering an elbow injury in the season opener.

New injury for Lions RB Reggie Bush
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Lions running back Reggie Bush has missed four of the past six games due to an ankle injury. Now Bush is dealing with a back injury too, per the team's website. Bush was limited in Tuesday's practice with the two injuries, though he has said he plans to play Thursday against the Bears.

Bush has scored one touchdown in seven games this season.


 
 
 
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