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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
Martellus Bennett worth starting in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:09 pm ET) Bears tight end Martellus Bennett posted career-best numbers in 2013, catching 65 passes for 759 yards while matching his career high of five touchdowns. Three of those five scores came in the first two weeks of the season, and he could be on the verge of starting off hot for the third straight season.

Bennett is in danger of getting lost offensively on a week-to-week basis, as there are only so many opportunities to go around for Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and the tight end. He faces a plus matchup in Week 1, with the Bills dealing with a depleted linebacker corps and the loss of free safety Jairus Byrd. While the one thing new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense did well in Detroit last year was defend the tight end, the Bills don't appear to have the personnel to match up with the imposing Bennett.

Bennett falls inside the top 12 in the weekly rankings of both CBSSports.con Fantasy experts, designating him as starter material in standard leagues. We could see a similar line to his opener against the Bengals last season: three receptions, 49 yards and one touchdown.


Khiry Robinson looking to solidify role
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(8:03 pm ET) Of the Saints' top three running backs, Khiry Robinson's role is the most unclear heading into Week 1 at Atlanta, making him a risky choice in Fantasy despite the favorable matchup.

Mark Ingram is expected to start for the Saints and get the largest percentage of the carries. Pierre Thomas, who led all running backs with 77 receptions last season, still figures to play a big role in the passing game. Robinson, who wasn't nearly as effective as Ingram this preseason, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, could end up being just a change-of-pace option.

If he gets a decent number of touches, he could surprise against a defense that ranked 31st against the run last season, allowing 135.8 yards per game, but that's too big of a gamble for standard 12-team leagues.

Neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard ranks Robinson among his top 48 running backs for this week.


Mark Ingram could begin 2014 on right foot
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:58 pm ET) Coming off an impressive preseason in which he started three of the Saints' four games and ran 22 times for 156 yards (averaging 7.1 yards per carry), running back Mark Ingram has a chance to make an even bigger impression Week 1 at Atlanta.

The Falcons ranked 31st against the run last season, allowing 135.8 yards per game.

Ingram didn't do much in two games against them then, rushing nine times for 11 yards in the first and nine times for 32 yards in the second, but he picked up his pace later in the year, rushing 44 times for 249 yards in his final four games (including two playoff games) for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.

Beginning his fourth NFL season, Ingram is expected to play his biggest role yet for the Saints. He'll still split carries with Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson, but with a strong matchup after a favorable preseason, he's not a bad third running back for Week 1. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank him as a top-30 option in non-PPR leagues.


Alshon Jeffery owners should temper Week 1 expectations
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:54 pm ET) Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery enjoyed one of the biggest breakouts of the 2013 season, racking up more than 1,500 total yards and scoring seven touchdowns. As a result, he's been selected in the top 10 at his position in most 2014 Fantasy drafts, placing him in WR1 territory as owners look for a big follow-up. But it's entirely possible his third season may get off to a slow start Sunday when the Bears face the Bills at Soldier Field.

Jeffery feasted on big plays last year, scoring from 45, 46 and 80 yards out, but only one of his touchdowns came over the middle of the field, where the Bills project to be weakest on Sunday. Buffalo was the best team in the league against No. 2 receivers in 2013, per Football Outsiders, thanks to quality cornerback play from Stephen Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. The latter allowed just two touchdowns all season while breaking up 13 passes, so even if the supremely talented Jeffery gets isolated on the corner, he's no lock to come through with a long score.

Jeffery, who caught just three of his seven TDs on passes from starter Jay Cutler last year, should be primed for another big season. But before Cutler's injury, Jeffery hauled in just one catch in two of his team's first six games. Cutler could favor Brandon Marshall Sunday if he continues to face a soft defense over the middle, potentially leaving Jeffery owners a little disappointed in his Week 1 numbers.


Pierre Thomas could make statement
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:44 pm ET) Carrying the ball just three times in two games this preseason games didn't exactly relieve concerns of Pierre Thomas playing a reduced role in the Saints running game this season -- a possibility he acknowledged earlier this preseason -- but he has the right matchup to make a statement Week 1 at Atlanta.

The Falcons were dreadful against the run last season, allowing 135.8 yards per game, second-most in the league. Thomas himself took advantage in the second of the two games the Saints played against them last year, picking up 73 yards on 10 carries and 57 on five catches Week 12 at Atlanta.

That second number should give Fantasy owners hope for this matchup. With Darren Sproles and Lance Moore out of the picture, Thomas should still play a significant role in the passing game. He led all running backs with 77 catches last year and had four catches for 66 yards in one of his two preseason games.

CBSSports.com Fantasy Football analyst Jamey Eisenberg likes Thomas enough with this matchup to rank him 21st among running backs this week. Dave Richard isn't as optimistic, ranking him 37th.


IK Enemkpali dealing with plantar fascia injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:32 pm ET) Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali is suffering from an injury to the plantar fascia in one of his feet, NJ.com reports.

"Rest is a big part of it," Enemkpali said. "Right now, I'm just leaving it in the hands of the training room staff to see when I can get back on the field."

Enemkpali added that the injury has bothered him off and on throughout his career. He's out indefinitely.


Plenty of question marks for Kenny Stills
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:24 pm ET) Saints second-year wide receiver Kenny Stills, who suffered a quad injury on his first day of camp and played in just one preseason game (and only briefly) as a result, has a chance to solidify his role in the passing game Week 1 at Atlanta, but only if he's able to take the field.

The Falcons ranked 21st against the pass last season, allowing 243.6 yards per game, and gave up the eighth-most Fantasy points to wide receivers. Stills didn't play a major role in the Saints' two games against them last year but made his presence known in the first, hauling in a 67-yard pass.

With Lance Moore and Darren Sproles out of the picture, Stills figures to get more targets going forward, but if his quad continues to plague him, rookie Brandin Cook could cut into those targets. He's already considered the preferred Fantasy option of the two based on his preseason performance.

With his exact role in question entering the new season, you'll probably want to sit Stills in Fantasy even if he's healthy enough to play.


Brandon Marshall likely to continue TD streak in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:24 pm ET) Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall put a cap on his 2013 season by scoring touchdowns in each of his last three games. On Sunday against the Bills, he's primed to extend that TD streak to four games.

Marshall is less of a big play threat than fellow starter Alshon Jeffery, but he does plenty of damage in his own right. Half of his 12 touchdowns last season were from within six yards of the end zone. Nine of his touchdowns came on passes from starter Jay Cutler. If the Bears can get to the red zone repeatedly Sunday -- and they can -- Cutler should hook up with Marshall for at least one score.

Marshall had double-digit targets 11 times last season, failing to reach eight targets only once all season. The space should be there over the middle against a depleted Buffalo linebacker corps and a secondary without Jairus Byrd. Marshall snagged half of his 100 receptions in the middle of the field within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. Look for him to exploit that same part of the field Sunday en route to a big Fantasy day.


Brandin Cooks has ideal matchup to begin career
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:11 pm ET) Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who climbed the Fantasy rankings with a strong preseason performance in which he caught nine passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, couldn't ask for a better matchup to begin his career than a visit to Atlanta in Week 1. The Falcons ranked 21st against the pass last season, allowing 243.6 yards per game.

But that doesn't quite capture the full extent of their struggles. They allowed the second-highest passer rating and the fourth-most passing touchdowns. They also surrendered the eight-most Fantasy points to wide receivers.

Cooks is listed behind both Marques Colston and Kenny Stills on the depth chart, but the Saints have said they'll use him in a variety of roles, looking to capitalize on his big-play potential both underneath (filling the Darren Sproles void) and down the field.

Banking on them doing it right out of the gate is risky, which is why neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard ranks Cook among the top 30 wide receivers this week, but if you're in the gambling sort of mood, the matchup favors him.


Report: Wes Welker suspended four games for amphetamines
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended four games by the league for use of amphentamines, ESPN reports.

Welker is currently recovering from a concussion and appeared to be on track to play in Week 1. However, an appeal filed by Welker has been denied by the league, leaving him ineligible for Denver's first four games. Welker will be eligible to return Week 6 against the Jets.


 
 
 
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