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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
Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:29 pm ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:07 pm ET) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


Raiders QB Derek Carr practices Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to practice Wednesday despite dealing with an illness.

"I got here early to work out and see how I would feel during that and after that and I felt pretty good," Carr said at a press conference Wednesday. "So, felt good at practice today, obviously not 100 percent but it felt good to practice and be out here."

Carr has been able to start every game for the Raiders this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes while racking up 3,112 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Raiders are a 14-point underdog in Denver in Week 17.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman practices in full Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:32 pm ET) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was able to practice in full Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left foot injury on Nov. 9, ESPN.com reports.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," head coach John Fox said after Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

Hillman has been able to practice in a limited fashion during the last two weeks but hasn't been active on gameday since the injury occured. The Broncos are a 14-point favorite at home against the Raiders in Week 17.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) expected to miss Week 17
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) is not expected to play in Sunday's Week 17 matchup with the Panthers, ESPN.com reports.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are expected to share the workload in the critical regular-season finale if Jackson is indeed sidelined.

The Falcons are a 4-point favorite at home against the Panthers.


49ers RB Carlos Hyde still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:45 pm ET) 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde missed practice again Wednesday with an ankle injury. He sat out Week 16 and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against Arizona, too.

With Hyde out, veteran Frank Gore went off for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against San Diego. Gore should see another big workload against the Cardinals.


Michael Crabtree doesn't sound eager to return to 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) Impending free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree was asked Wednesday if he wants to return to the 49ers next season. "It depends," Crabtree said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't even want to talk about it."

Crabtree is finishing up a disappointing season. He's played every game but has only 64 catches for 657 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the 85 grabs, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns he put up in his last full season, 2012.


Ravens LT Eugene Monroe bothered by ankle injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:27 pm ET) Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hurt his ankle Week 16 against Houston, missed practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. His status is uncertain for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.

If Monroe can't play, undrafted rookie James Hurst likely would start, the website said.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (shoulder) unable to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:18 pm ET) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. Bowe leads Chiefs wideouts with 57 catches for 724 yards.

Kansas City hosts San Diego on Sunday as a 3-point favorite.


Lions OC not concerned about Joique Bell's Achilles' injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:07 pm ET) Lions running back Joique Bell was limited in Wednesday's practice by an Achilles' injury, but offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi doesn't think the injury will hinder Bell in Sunday's pivotal game at Green Bay, reports ESPN.com. Bell has four rushing touchdowns in his past four games.

The Lions are 8-point underdogs Sunday in the game that will decide the NFC North.


 
 
 
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