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Fantasy & Reality: Last Chance Saloon

Senior Fantasy Writer
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We're seven weeks into the NFL season. We should know what we've got among players we drafted. Some have done better than expected, some have done worse. And some ... well, they've been bad, but owners are having a tough time figuring out what the next move is with them.

Week 8 (and in some cases Week 9) should represent the last chance Fantasy owners should give players they've been frustrated with. Two months worth of action is plenty to decide whether to have the conviction to keep a guy for the rest of the way or trade him (or cut him) for whatever you can get.

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Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
Johnson's YTD stats: 268 rush yards, one rushing touchdown; 24 catches, 143 receiving yards
There's a lot going on with Johnson, but after extensive film study dating back to 2009, the most significant factor is that his blocking is not as good as it once was. The Titans are adamant that they have the right linemen in the game, and from a pass protection standpoint they're right. But they're having a hard time giving Johnson space to make plays. But Johnson is not off the hook. As we've noted before, Johnson continues to look tentative and take a little longer to accelerate. His effort hasn't always been there either and at times he's played more like a physical inside rusher instead of the speedster we drafted.
Your next move: You have to start Johnson this week at home vs. a Colts run defense that's been horrible. Indy has allowed at least one rushing touchdown and/or 100 total yards to a running back in five of seven games. Just last week they allowed 97 total yards to three different Saints backs! If Johnson can't find room to speed against the Colts at home, then you can go ahead and assume that he's a bust for the rest of the season and count on him to be a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back. Trading him away will net you next to nothing. If he shines in Week 8, he could salvage his season thanks to some favorable matchups down the stretch -- it'll be up to you to either accept a fair amount in trade for him or to hang on and hope that he's for real.

Philip Rivers, QB, Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers
Rivers' YTD stats: 1,715 passing yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions; 34 rush yards, rush touchdown
Jackson's YTD stats: 24 catches, 423 yards, three touchdowns
Rivers doesn't have a healthy receiving corps, but it's getting better. Losing Antonio Gates for several weeks hurt his numbers, as did playing with a good running back duo that has taken some of the pressure to move the chains off of him. But the Chargers have not been strong in the red zone (46 percent on the season, 36 percent in their last three) and the obvious turnover ratio Rivers has delivered is a downer. Jackson's biggest issue is that he's playing hurt; his hamstring has kept him out of practice and even though it was believed that he had turned the corner before the Jets game, you can tell he doesn't have the speed he once had. His targets are also low; only in half of his games has he had more than six passes thrown at him. Twenty-three receivers have more targets than Jackson on the year, including 19 No. 1 wideouts.
Your next move: Rivers seems healthy and can still throw with good accuracy (despite last week's game). His value is tied in part to Jackson's; if V-Jack can't get going and be a factor all over the field, then Rivers' stats will suffer. Yes, Rivers can go to Gates and his running backs more if Jackson is struggling or double covered, but not having him as a big-time playmaker -- which he's been twice this season and once last season -- will keep Rivers' stats from being off-the-charts. If you can sell high on Jackson, which seems unlikely given his sluggish stats, then do it. But don't give him or Rivers away as the Chargers have several favorable matchups left. If anything, this might be the time to buy low on these guys.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns
Hillis' YTD stats: 211 rush yards, two touchdowns; 15 catches, 76 receiving yards
Hillis has only played in four games and has exceeded 15 touches in two. So opportunity is clearly lacking, though he's to blame for part of it (pulling himself when he was sick in Week 3, for example). The Browns might say they're pleased with Montario Hardesty, but the reality is that Hardesty has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in his last two games and sports a 3.3 average on the season. Hardesty also hasn't scored this season. When Hillis' hamstring gets healthy he'll be back on the field -- coach Pat Shurmur has said as much.
Your next move: If you own Hillis, don't give him up. The Browns are doing the right thing by letting him get healthy and as soon as he is chances are he'll take over the majority of work in the Cleveland run game. And because the Browns' passing game is mired in mediocrity he'll probably get some opportunities there too. The Browns' schedule gets ugly late, so the best plan might be to hang on to Hillis, hopes he puts up some good numbers and then ship him off before he plays the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals in five of his last six games.

Dallas Clark, TE, Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Clark's YTD stats: 20 catches, 189 yards, two touchdowns
Wayne's YTD stats: 30 catches, 426 yards, one touchdown
You've been living in a cave if you don't know the main problem with these guys. Curtis Painter hasn't targeted Clark as much as Peyton Manning used to (Clark has 34 in 2011), and serious issues with drops and fumbles have played a role in his production. Painter has been an obvious problem for Wayne, too; since Painter has replaced Kerry Collins we've seen Pierre Garcon get more targets than Wayne, and we've seen Garcon do more with them than Wayne. Perhaps Wayne has had to do more adjusting to Painter than Garcon has.
Your next move: Fantasy owners should be impatient with Clark, but in a year where tight end play hasn't exactly resulted in a high number of reliable, consistent studs (like Clark used to be), he still carries some value. The idea of carrying him and another tight end and playing the matchups is fine for now, and he's got a dandy of a matchup against the Titans in Week 8. If he can't exploit Tennessee like the majority of tight ends have done recently, owners should be even more willing to let Clark walk. Wayne's a tougher nut to crack because we know he's a great receiver and the targets are still pretty good even if Garcon's getting more. The Colts will throw a lot for the rest of the season obviously so you can't help but think he'll turn in some good weeks. He's worth holding on to as at least a No. 3 receiver and at worst a top backup. If you have those spots filled already on your roster and still have Wayne, though, then try and ship him for whatever you can get.

Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers
Williams' YTD stats: 31 catches, 317 yards, one touchdown
This is one of the weirdest pickles of the 2011 season. Williams' stats rank him as the 53rd-best receiver in Fantasy (you don't even want to know some of the receivers doing better than him), but he's fifth in the NFL in targets. That's astounding. It's a huge combination of Williams not playing at a high level, his quarterback not passing at a high level and defenses able to keep tight coverage on him because he's not flashing any kind of speed. He's seemingly morphed into a big possession receiver. He also has just seven red zone targets through seven games, which is definitely low.
Your next move: Like other receivers, Williams can fit into Fantasy lineups as a No. 3 option, a flex or a high-end reserve. If you have those spots filled and Williams is still on your bench, find a new home for him. The Buccaneers are surely going to realize soon that Williams can be helpful in some ways but will give Freeman other options, with Dezmon Briscoe the most intriguing choice after a breakout game in London against the Bears. He's got better speed than Williams with the same kind of size and could end up with better stats if given the chance to play close to the same amount of reps as Williams.

Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings
Harvin's YTD stats: 27 catches, 276 yards, no touchdowns; 166 rush yards
What's wrong with Harvin? Try everything. He's banged up, he didn't get off to a good start with Donovan McNabb throwing passes (no Vikings player did) and he hasn't had a chance to play a whole lot with rookie Christian Ponder. He's caught close to 70 percent of the passes tossed his way, which is nice, but he's not getting a lot of looks. Some of that is made up for by his ability to run with the ball -- a 10.4 rushing average is phenomenal. But opportunity has to improve before Fantasy owners get excited again.
Your next move: He's worth replacing. While I'm a big believer in Ponder and even think he could help turn around Harvin's season, questions about Harvin's health will overshadow him. Don't dump him just to dump him, but after a week of action where there were so many injuries and so many new players begging for a chance off waivers, the time is right to cut him if you need space on your roster. Otherwise, he's a No. 3 Fantasy option until further notice.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Cam Newton has been figured out. I've been fooled twice by Newton, which I suppose makes me a fool. Not only were Newton's stats solid against the Redskins, but he was incomplete on only five of 23 passes, and two were knocked away by Redskins defenders. I continue to be astounded by Newton's deep ball, which is usually on point and involves Steve Smith making a play at the other end. He's going to roast the Vikings in Week 8.

Reality: DeMarco Murray was great, but let's see it again. Any great rushing performance this season against the Rams or Colts needs an asterisk next to it. Those run defenses are awful and have been bludgeoned by most everyone. Murray benefitted from the matchup against St. Louis and produced beyond our wildest dreams. And while I've liked Murray since Dallas drafted him, I'm surprised by the big game. That's why I'm not quick to label him as a Fantasy superstar after one game -- the Eagles know how important their home game vs. Dallas is this week and will have the luxury of knowing that Murray is coming. Start him for sure, but keep expectations in serious check. The Cowboys don't strike me as a team that will lean on a rookie making his first career start in a must-win NFC East game.

Fantasy: Carson Palmer will flop in Oakland. Take everything that you saw from Palmer vs. the Chiefs and erase it from your memory. The guy had three practices with the team and had been a Raider for six days when coach Hue Jackson put him in the game down two touchdowns at the half. The Raiders say Palmer will work with his coaches and receivers this week in hopes of being a capable -- and far less turnover-prone -- starter and that could lead to some good games. He faces a lot of porous pass defenses down the stretch. I'd consider him a very good No. 2 Fantasy quarterback.

Reality: Tim Tebow's receivers carry huge risk to trust in Fantasy lineups. Words to describe the end of Tebow's Week 7 game vs. the Dolphins are tough to find. Amazing. Astounding. Miraculous? One thing's for sure: His passing needs some work. We knew going into The Tebow Era that accuracy wasn't the quarterback's best friend, and there will be plenty of bad moments from him, just as there will be good moments. But because he'll be tough to trust as a passer, his receivers take a hit. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have all the potential in the world, but starting them with high expectations is tough until Tebow proves he can be a reliable passer.

Week 8 waiver-wire DSTs

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Bengals (at Seahawks) ... It's always dangerous to start a DST playing in Seattle, but the Bengals match up really well here. Cincinnati has allowed six passing touchdowns on the year, two since Week 3. We already know the Seahawks have problems passing effectively, and if Marshawn Lynch remains out then their run game will be equally challenging. With an extra week to prepare, Mike Zimmer's bunch should be difficult to score on.

Bills (vs. Redskins in Toronto) ... Are you buying John Beck as a serious quarterback? Neither am I. Are you buying Ryan Torain as a stud rusher? Neither am I. While the Bills run defense has been beaten up, they should be up to the task of taking on Torain and keeping him out of the end zone. The Buffalo secondary has also given up some yardage but with Santana Moss out, they shouldn't feel threatened by what the Redskins have left.

Titans (vs. Colts) ... Perhaps this one is risky, but with the way the Colts offense is operating right now, it's worth a shot if you're thin. Tennessee's defense did get steamrolled in their last two games (79 total points), but the Indy offense is not a juggernaut so long as Curtis Painter is under center.

Parting shots

• One quick reference point when considering dropping a player: How quickly would the guy you dropped get picked up if you dropped him? For instance, if you decide you've had enough of Percy Harvin or Mike Williams, how soon after you dumped him would someone put in a waiver claim? In my leagues, owners will take a chance on striking gold with those guys off waivers. If you think someone you drop will get claimed right away, don't be in a rush to drop them. You probably can't get much in trade for those kinds of players either, but don't cut just to cut if the player in question will get picked up.

The caveat, of course, is that if you need to pick someone up off waivers and have to cut the dead weight, then go ahead and do it.

• I've been doing this a long time. I've watched football since I was a kid, I've played Fantasy since the mid-'90s and I've been writing about football, and Fantasy Football, since 2001. I've never seen a week as wild as Week 7 was.

There were injuries seemingly every 30 minutes. You know about most of the injuries that went down already, but even guys like Adrian Peterson, Ryan Mathews and Michael Turner limped off the field before returning. Yep, Week 7 could have been even worse for Fantasy owners than it actually was!

But then you consider the games and the week was even stranger. At halftime of all the 1 p.m. games there were a total of eight offensive touchdowns. There were seven games going! Seven teams failed to score more than seven points overall. After quarterbacks threw like crazy to start the season, only three passers topped 300 yards in Week 7. Only six wide receivers had 100 yards (and one of them was Michael Jenkins!).

And then there's Tim Tebow, who gave those brave Fantasy owners who started him a proverbial Hail Mary with his amazing comeback in five minutes at Miami.

Suffice to say, I was exhausted but exhilarated. Week 7 was maddening, but it was a reminder of why Fantasy Football is such a fun game. It's unpredictable, it's got twists and turns and it's got joy and pain.

I'm hooked forever, even if I lost Beanie Wells, Darren McFadden, Tim Hightower and potentially Matthew Stafford in one of my leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Reggie Bush says he doesn't plan to retire
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(6:31 pm ET) Three days after being released by the Lions, RB Reggie Bush said he has no plans to retire. 

TMZ reporters confronted Bush outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and asked if Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, was going to quit football. Bush responded with, "No." 

Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to let DeMarco Murray test free agency
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) The Cowboys will let RB DeMarco Murray test the free-agent market, according to a report from Fox Sports Southwest

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said that negotiations with Murray's agents have been "slow". 

Jones said that Murray "is probably going to get some peace and see what's out in the market, and then we'll talk and see. I do believe deep down he'd love to stay in Dallas."

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5:15 pm ET) The Cowboys will use the franchise tag on WR Dez Bryant on Monday, according to a report by Fox Sports Southwest

The team has been trying to negotiate a long-term contract with Bryant, a free-agent to be. If a deal can't be made by Monday's franchise tag deadline, the Cowboys will use the tag to keep Bryant a Cowboy. 

"I still think that (it) would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline," Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told Fox. "Looks like we're eyeing a franchise tag on Dez, but certainly won't stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal. ... We just don't want to lose his rights."

Bryant had 88 catches for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. 


QB Josh McCown's contract with Browns worth $14 million
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Quarterback Josh McCown's deal with the Browns will pay $14 million over three years, a league source told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

With incentives related to playing time and playoff berths, McCown could earn $20 million over the course of the deal.

McCown will earn $6.25 million in fully guaranteed money, with $5.25 million of it coming in the first year of the deal.


Report: Panthers won't re-sign Greg Hardy
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:18 pm ET) Panthers DE Greg Hardy is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10. He missed most of last season while appealing his conviction for domestic violence. 

Even though the charges were dropped on appeal, the Panthers have no intention of bringing Hardy back, multiple league sources told BlackandBlueReview.com's Bill Voth


Texans' Brian Cushing has had three offseason surgeries
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:15 pm ET) Texans LB Brian Cushing has had three surgeries since the end of the season. 

In a public appearance on Saturday, Cushing told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain that he's had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. 

"It’s not uncommon for stuff like that to happen," he said of the two arthroscopic surgeries. "It’s just little things here and there, the residual effects of two major surgeries and injuries, the wear and tear of playing throughout the season. There were still some things bothering me a little bit. Just went in there and had real good success in both areas."

Cushing has a cast on his wrist. “It’s coming along real well,” he said. “I’m going to start working out a little bit. From a pain standpoint, there’s really nothing going on there. I’m real happy about that. I’m real happy to get the cast off and start doing some physical therapy on it, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore."


Report: 49ers to release wide receiver Steve Johnson
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:34 am ET) The 49ers are expected to release wide receiver Steve Johnson, according to Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington D.C.

The move will reportedly save the team $5.5 million in cap space. Johnson had 35 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last season.


Patriots running back Stevan Ridley: 'I have something to prove'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is expected to become a free agent in the coming weeks and he is ready for the experience.

"I'm excited about it," Ridley told Sirius XM Radio Friday. "As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract."

Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league with the Patriots.

"Where I'll be playing, and who I'll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I've come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent's hands to get me on another team, or stay where I'm at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick."

Ridley has played in 20 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons, starting in just 11 of them.

"I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can't be a very productive player on whatever team I land on," he said. "I've been playing ball my whole life, I'm going to come in and be a leader, and I'm going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I'm a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it's all business and I plan on going out there and making plays."


Patriots' Aaron Dobson doing well in rehab of hamstring injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson is still recovering from a hamstring injury that ended his season in 2014. Trainer Brett Fischer said Friday he thinks Dobson is going to turn heads when he heads back to Foxboro for training camp, according to the Boston Herald.

"He was talking about, 'When I go up there (to Foxboro) and they see me again, I want to make sure they know I'm in the best shape of my life.' He is really determined," Fischer said. "That is the underlying theme every day: 'Hey, I've got to be ready when April comes, be ready as far as the best shape of my life.' It's frustrating with two years of freaky-type stuff."

Dobson finished a disappointing 2014 season with three catches for 38 yards.

"He is doing great," Fischer said. "I'm really excited for him. He has put the time and effort into it, comes in early, gets all his work in and he is hungry. There are a few specific things we found, minor little things we're working on, that make his program a little bit unique to everybody else's. Nothing major."


Report: Should be a 'very active market' for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas turned down a five-year, $40 million contract for a reason. That's because it's believed he will have a "very active market" when the new league year begins on March 10, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

Two teams that are expected to target Thomas in free agency are the Raiders and Jaguars, both of which need to upgrade considerably at their skill positions to help out their young quarterbacks. The expectation is for Broncos general manager John Elway to let Thomas test the waters in free agency to see what he's offered. 

The Falcons have also reportedly been interested, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. 

Injuries slowed what was an otherwise fast start to his 2014 season. Thomas' season ended with 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


 
 
 
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