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Fantasy & Reality: Planning for the playoffs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Planning ahead and being prepared for unforeseen problems isn't just for people buying life insurance. Fantasy Football might be a lot cooler than life insurance (sorry, Ned Ryerson), but the same issues apply if you want to win your league.

For most of us, there are four weeks of regular-season Fantasy play left. You're either coasting towards a playoff berth or fighting to get in. Either way, you need to get prepped for the final run, and now's the time to get ready.

If you're looking good

Pat yourself on the back if you have two or fewer losses. Chances are you'll make the playoffs. Now stop patting yourself and take a long look at your roster.

Dave's 7-2 team (14-team PPR)
QB: Matt Schaub
RB: Matt Forte
RB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Roddy White
WR: Jeremy Maclin
WR: Dez Bryant
TE: Rob Gronkowski
K: Mike Nugent
DST: Texans
Bench
QB: Tim Tebow
RB: Joseph Addai
RB: Jonathan Stewart
WR: Eric Decker
WR: Darrius Heyward-Bey
WR: Nate Washington

If you're doing well, chances are your roster is loaded, which is great. Are you still being forced to make lineup decisions every week? For instance, in my 14-team PPR league I am pretty set with my lineup as-is; I might consider sitting White down the line, but really I won't make any changes.

But if I had a spot or two where I still had to play matchups, I'd try to nip it in the bud by making a deal for one good player. Owners who have elite talent don't necessarily need depth, and if they have good depth, they can use it to improve their holdings at other positions. For instance, when would I ever sit Matt Forte this season? So why should I carry Jonathan Stewart if someone else could use him and give me a good receiver in trade for him and White? The point is that it's better to head into the Fantasy postseason without tough lineup decisions and with a great starting lineup.

The counter-point to this is that depth can be beneficial. One might argue that the good players you trade away could help your potential playoff opponents. That is true, but let's not forget that you wouldn't give away your good bench players for nothing -- in theory you'd be getting a very good player in exchange. Better you have the very good player than the good players.

Someone could also offer a pessimistic approach: What if Week 15 comes along and Forte is out? Wouldn't I want Stewart then? Perhaps, but if I trade Stewart I can go another route in protecting myself in case Forte misses time. I could "handcuff" him with his real-life primary backup. I have offers out in my league to give Nate Washington or Darrius Heyward-Bey to the team that has Marion Barber. Are those necessarily fair trades? Probably not, but since I don't see myself starting either receiver again, the price is fine to ensure that I have a guy ready to go in case Forte gets hurt. In this instance, my useless depth nets me the guy behind my stud.

Should you have an eye on potential playoff matchups? Probably a good idea, but don't let it dictate how you view your players. For example, some fairly prominent Fantasy talents have some tough matchups in Weeks 15 and 16:

Player: Week 15 and 16 opp. Player: Week 15 and 16 opp.
Matt Forte: vs. SEA, at GB Marshawn Lynch: at CHI, vs. SF
Larry Fitzgerald: vs. CLE, at CIN Eli Manning: vs. WAS, at NYJ
Frank Gore: vs. PIT, at SEA Philip Rivers: vs. BAL, at DET
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: at DEN, vs. MIA Mark Sanchez: at PHI, vs. NYG
Fred Jackson: vs. MIA, vs. DEN Michael Vick: vs. NYJ, at DAL
Steven Jackson: vs. CIN, at PIT Eagles WRs: vs. NYJ, at DAL
Brandon Lloyd: vs. CIN, at PIT Giants WRs: vs. WAS, at NYJ

Giving up on Fred Jackson or Michael Vick just because of their late-season matchups isn't necessarily a bright idea. But one could sell high on someone like Victor Cruz or bail on Larry Fitzgerald and avoid their end-of-year headaches. Don't force yourself to get rid of a player just because of their schedule for the final two or three games of the Fantasy season, but be open to the idea of either trading him or going with a possible replacement. If Lloyd begins to flounder come Week 15, you might want to have someone with favorable matchups to replace him with.

The other Fantasy playoff-related factor: Who might sit their starters late in the season? The answer will change as the year draws to a close, so you can't pin any studs as must-sits right now. But two teams -- the Packers and the 49ers -- might opt to rest their stars late in the year. The Packers probably won't do it if they're chasing an undefeated season, but the 49ers might if they take on another loss or two and still wrap up a bye (or are out of the running for it) by Week 16. San Francisco could potentially clinch its division by Week 12.

If you're fighting for your life

You can't win 'em all, but you probably have to if you have four or more losses. Your mindset has to be to win now and forget about things like playoff matchups and having good depth. In fact, depth might be what you have to give up on to make a move.

Dave's 4-5 team (12-team)
QB: Mark Sanchez
RB: Maurice Morris
RB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Marques Colston
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: Jeremy Maclin
TE: Dustin Keller
K: Sebastian Janikowski
DST: Texans
Bench
QB: Josh Freeman
RB: Montario Hardesty
RB: Darren McFadden
RB: Ryan Torain
WR: Hakeem Nicks
TE: Dallas Clark

I'm a game under .500 in our 12-team Auction league but a couple of wins will thrust me into the playoff chase. One more loss, however, and I'm reduced to a Fantasy playoff spoiler. My team has been ravaged by injuries and a couple of unfortunate waiver wire moves, leaving me with what you see here. While I have some good players on my roster, it's clear that two of my best -- Darren McFadden and Hakeem Nicks -- have hurt me by missing playing time lately.

I could try to deal for Michael Bush so he can hold down a starting spot for me until McFadden is back. But that would be tough to do because Bush's value is sky-high. So my best move is to do the opposite of what's suggested for those teams headed for the playoffs: Spin off a stud for two good starters. In this case, I would sell McFadden and/or Nicks -- my most attractive players -- for guys that can help me win now. Again, I can't think about how good these guys will be in a couple of weeks because my playoff hopes might flatline by then. And the depth-rich owner who can throw me a couple of starters will land a stud for his lineup once he gets back on his feet. Moreover, I probably would have to take a discount for McFadden, making the deal more appealing to the guy who has the starters I need.

The waiver wire is my only other option if I can't make a trade. If you're in my position and need a receiver, this is a good week to attack waivers because guys like Jacoby Ford, Laurent Robinson and Earl Bennett look good right now. Had I needed a receiver, the decision on who to cut would be easy: Who would I start now? And, who would get picked up off waivers if I dropped them? Three guys -- Dallas Clark, Montario Hardesty and Ryan Torain -- all fit the criteria of being underwhelming benchwarmers who fellow owners wouldn't run to pick up. They're who I will cut for a shot at Carson Palmer and Jermaine Gresham, both of whom are inexplicably available.

Final point: My team is 4-5 for a reason. If I stand pat, chances are I won't suddenly become 8-5 and playoff bound. So the absolute worst thing an owner in a similar position could do is shut out the rest of the league and not try to improve his or her roster. If you have four or more losses, you owe it to yourself to explore trade opportunities involving your attractive players.

A new wrinkle for 2011

Whether you're playing for the playoffs or stuck with six or more losses, you have to get ready for the Week 11 byes. For the first time that I can remember, the last week of teams being on bye comes after a week when everyone plays. Why the schedule is like this I cannot answer, but it leaves everyone with a week to get ready for when the Saints, Texans, Steelers and Colts take a break. Stay ahead of the game and pick players up now that can slide into your lineup for the crucial week.

Favorable Matchups VS. Unfavorable Matchups
Bears (vs. SD), Bills (at MIA), Bucs (at GB), Chiefs (at NE),, Jets (at DEN), Raiders (at MIN), Vikings (vs. OAK) PASS Bengals (at BAL), Ravens (vs. CIN), Titans (at ATL), Broncos (vs. NYJ)
Giants (vs. PHI), Lions (vs. CAR), Packers (vs. TB), Seahawks (at STL) RUN Bengals (at BAL), Cardinals (at SF)
Jaguars (at CLE), Rams (vs. SEA), Seahawks (at STL) DST Chiefs (at NE), Eagles (at NYG), Giants (vs. PHI)

In my PPR league, I'm making the bold decision to drop Tim Tebow for Matt Cassel, if I can't trade him first. When Matt Schaub goes on bye, I won't be able to stomach Tebow playing against the Jets secondary. Cassel on the other hand will play in his first game ever at New England as a visiting quarterback, and the Patriots are awful against the pass. I'll take my chances with Cassel there.

Point is, I've made this plan now instead of next week. You should do the same, and it's something you have to do whether you're 9-0 or 0-9.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: LeGarrette Blount is an every-down, 20-carry back. After watching the Bucs-Saints game from Week 9, this much was made clear: The offense revolves around Josh Freeman, not Blount. LeGarrette Blount ran well at New Orleans, averaging 5.5 yards per tote and gashing the Saints for several good gains. But he was off the field on every single third down and was not part of the offense at all when they went into hurry-up -- with 9:37 left to play in a two-score game. He's not a lock for 15 touches like we thought he'd be by now.

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Reality: Chris Johnson still has to prove it. The final stat line says Johnson had 110 total yards in a good effort against the Bengals, but 77 of those 110 yards came in the first half, and 41 of those yards came on two plays in the first quarter. He's got another cupcake game this week against the Panthers, in Carolina. All the stats say he'll rip them up for a big game, but he's not changed as a runner (still lacks top-end speed, still struggles after first contact, still doesn't have great blocking). You should start him, but don't have wild expectations.

Fantasy: Vincent Jackson and Philip Rivers are playing hurt and/or out of sync. Leave it to a matchup against the pass-deficient Packers for Jackson and Rivers to get on the same page -- three times! His second two scores came on complete defensive breakdowns by Green Bay and all three touchdowns showed that Jackson does indeed have some burst in his legs. Rivers also put the ball on the money on all three tosses. If Rivers could stop telegraphing some of his passes he'll be back to an elite Fantasy passer in no time.

Reality: Jackie Battle isn't special. If you think the Chiefs' rushing problems are solved because Battle has had some good games, you're only sort of right. He'll serve as their best running back, but he reminds me of your typical physical back with average speed and burst. The Broncos, who have been good against the run despite what we saw in Week 9, aren't likely to yield a ton of yards to him. Tack on the fact that Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster are still getting snaps in the offense and it makes me ultimately wish for Jamaal Charles to come back.

Week 10 waiver-wire DSTs

Colts (vs. Jaguars) This would be the ultimate gamble, but with the Jaguars' offense effectively being a one-man show, the Colts could force a turnover while allowing just a few points. You'd have to be in a deep league to have to settle for them.

Dolphins (vs. Redskins) Washington's O-line is a mess, their run game is a mess and their passing attack is easily defensible. With the Dolphins fresh off their first win they could be easily motivated to pull off a second straight victory and turn in a good game on defense. Andrew Luck Who?

Jaguars (at Colts) Perfect waiver-wire matchup for Week 10: The Colts' passing game is a mess and the Jaguars' pass defense has been solid, and so has their run defense. This isn't a tough opponent for the Jaguars at all, and they could pick up a couple of turnovers along the way.

Rams (at Browns) Don't look now but the Rams run defense has become palatable. They held down the Saints as best as they could two weeks ago and completely stuffed Beanie Wells last week. The Browns' starting running back? Chris Ogbonnaya. The Browns' passing game? Very mediocre, weak enough for even the Rams to handle. And get this -- ex-Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur calls the plays for the Browns. St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo should have a few wrinkles for defeating his team's old offense.

Parting shots

• For the fourth straight home game vs. the Ravens, Rashard Mendenhall scored. He has also scored in seven of his last eight home games. People are quick to call him a bust because he's not playing like a first-round pick this season, but he has five games with at least eight Fantasy points (standard leagues). He's not bad as a No. 2 back, and the Steelers could start to use him more as the weather turns.

• Don't ignore Ben Tate as a viable Fantasy option this week. Once again, the Texans face a team that's awful against the run in the Bucs. Tampa Bay lost its best defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy for the season and their linebackers are getting blocked out of the play by opposing linemen. Arian Foster will get his numbers but don't rule out Tate racking up some good yardage.

• I missed Cam Newton this week. Just saying.

• Dallas' run defense got gashed by ... Marshawn Lynch? One factor for it: The Cowboys played without solid run stopper Sean Lee. Buffalo won't have a problem going with Fred Jackson a lot in Week 10.

As for Lynch, he's scored in four straight games (excluding "BackGate" at Cleveland). I'll put my money on him not getting to five against the Ravens in Week 10, though. Big, tough statement, right?

• Over the last two games we've seen Tom Brady become a bit more tentative in the pocket. No quarterback likes to get hit, but it looks like Brady is trying to get rid of the ball a little sooner than in the past so he doesn't get beat up. His accuracy is suffering for it. He's got to spread the ball around a little more (25 of 49 pass attempts were targeted for Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski) and the Patriots need to do a better job with their run game. The Jets are actually the perfect opponent to improve on both aspects, and it's tough to think that Brady will struggle further. Besides, no one is complaining about his production.

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
Can Blake Bortles find success in Week 4?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) The Chargers made a point of improving their pass defense this offseason, after allowing the fourth-most passing yards in the league a year ago. Through three games, they have allowed the ninth-most Fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, so… mission accomplished?

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has the pleasure of making his first NFL start against the Chargers defense, which should work out well for him. The Chargers are allowing an average of 20.3 Fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, including 17 last week to lowly Bills passer E.J. Manuel.

The Chargers have yet to intercept a pass, which is good news for Bortles, because accuracy and decision-making might be issues for him at this point. Bortles was intercepted twice during his relief action against the Colts last week, both on plain-old poor throws. Against an opportunistic defense, Bortles might be in line for trouble, but the Chargers have had trouble take advantage of quarterbacks' mistakes so far.

Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard have Bortles just inside the top-20 in their initial rankings for Week 4, a good spot if you have him as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. Mistakes will be made, but Bortles has a chance to be productive in his first start. 


Jags sign Jeremiah George
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:04 pm ET) The Jaguars signed rookie linebacker Jeremiah George off the Jets' practice squad, reports The Star-Ledger. He was a fifth-round pick out of Iowa State.

Jordan Reed won't play Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) said he won't play Thursday against the Giants and even "sounded sketchy" about returning Week 5 against the Seahawks, reports the Washington Post.

Allen Robinson improving, defining his role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:56 pm ET) Allen Robinson has stepped into a larger role in the Jaguars' offense over the last two weeks, and showed that he has developed a quick rapport with new starting quarterback Blake Bortles in Week 3. Should Fantasy owners be expecting that to continue?

Robinson did not see a single snap in the preseason, as he watched undrafted rookie Allen Hurns surpass him on the depth chart while getting extensive playing time with Bortles. That did not seem to hinder Robinson's development much, as he was Bortles' favorite target Sunday. Bortles threw eight of his 24 passes to Robinson, completing six of them for 73 yards. Though he didn't haul in either of Bortles' touchdowns, the duo was on the same page immediately, which should bode well for Robinson moving forward.

Robinson is going to struggle with inconsistency, as all rookies do, but he has already established himself as a solid option in Jacksonville. Robinson still played just 70 percent of the team's snaps Sunday, but his strong relationship with Bortles could help him in that regard. At the very least, at just nine-percent ownership, Robinson makes for a nice long-term flier moving forward.   


Tyrann Mathieu coming along slowly
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu has played a total of 20 snaps in the past two games as he works his way back from ACL surgery. "I'm still a few weeks away from being the guy I want to be," he told the Arizona Republic.

"That confidence is going to come, just with more playing time."

Mathieu hopes to return stronger after the team's Week 4 bye.


Joe McKnight not worth your waiver-wire love
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:36 pm ET) Alright, Chiefs backup running back Joe McKnight scored twice in Week 3, and that was a nice scene for him. Unfortunately, nobody owned him in Fantasy then, as he really came out of nowhere following Jamaal Charles' injury. Is McKnight someone Fantasy owners should be targeting moving forward following his breakout?

McKnight was a non-factor in the running game, but Alex Smith leaned on him heavily as a receiver out of the backfield. He led the team with six receptions on seven targets for 64 yards against the Dolphins, and made his biggest impact with a pair of receiving touchdowns in the red zone.

McKnight did his work while seeing the field in just 21 percent of the Chief's offensive plays; he touched the ball on 46.7 percent of his snaps. That is a pretty unsustainable number for anyone, let alone a little-used return specialist. With Charles' return looming and Knile Davis entrenched as the change-of-pace back, there is little reason to add McKnight, despite last week's success. 


Cardinals cut Drew Butler
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:33 pm ET) The Cardinals released punter Drew Butler to make room for newly-signed running back Marion Grice.

Update: Odell Beckham practices
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Contrary to previous reports indicating he wouldn't practice this week, Giants rookie Odell Beckham participated in some receiver drills at the start of practice Tuesday, reports ESPN.com. Beckham ran routes and caught passes, a positive sign as he tries to come back from a lingering hamstring injury.

Miles Burris in a protective boot
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:28 pm ET) Raiders middle linebacker Miles Burris wore a protective boot at a community event in London on Tuesday. Burris has played every snap this season and has 20 tackles for the Raiders, who face Miami at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The Raiders have not updated Burris' status.


Jeremy Kerley worth more than a look
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) With Eric Decker's hamstring continuing to cause him problems, Jeremy Kerley stepped up in a big way in Week 3 against the Bears. And, though his overall numbers this season are not particularly impressive, there are reasons to think Kerley might be a worthwhile Fantasy option moving forward.

Kerley had just 60 yards on eight receptions and no touchdowns through the first two games, before recording seven catches for 81 yards and a score in Week 3. However, his overall numbers would look a lot more impressive of the 36-yard touchdown he hauled in late in Week 2 had counted -- as well all know, that play was blown dead by a late timeout from the Jets' sideline.

Kerley leads the Jets in targets, with 23.1 percent of the team's passes going his way through three games. That might not be a sustainable number, but he has clearly developed a rapport with Geno Smith. As long as Decker's hamstring remains an issue -- and it seems like it is going to be so -- Kerley certainly deserves to be owned in more than seven percent of leagues.  


 
 
 
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