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Dear Mr. Fantasy: The perils of second-guessing

Senior Fantasy Writer
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"This is it. Don't get scared now."

Words to live by. Words the average Fantasy owner would need to hear right now. Words once uttered by Kevin McCallister, BB gun in hand, his back against the wall, both literally and figuratively. Given his predicament, his resolve in that moment, with the crooks at his doorstep, inspired me in a way I haven't been inspired before or since.

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Until Thursday, when you adjusted your lineup for the early game between the Cowboys and Giants and then walked away, determined not to second-guess it even once before Sunday.

It's defiant. It's decisive. It's daring. It's ... not at all what you intended to do, is it?

In that case, it's disappointing. But, hey, at least you've come to the right place.

I need a flex starter for Week 1. Should I go with Peyton Hillis, Ben Tate, Justin Blackmon or Greg Olsen? -- @TeddyRobinson17 (via Twitter)

SW: My gut reaction, knowing my preference for running backs over wide receivers or tight ends in the flex spot and my belief that Tate is more of a backup than a change-of-pace option to Arian Foster, is to go with Hillis, who I suspect will split carries almost evenly with Jamaal Charles. But if I went by my gut all the time, this column would be a heck of a lot shorter and less informative. Let's look at the matchups, shall we?

We'll knock out the easy ones first. Olsen is facing the Buccaneers, who were on the lower end of the league in pass defense last year. They may or may not be a little better this year, but the bottom line is even against the most porous pass defense, Olsen is good for no more than about 60 yards. Blackmon, meanwhile, is facing the Vikings -- again, a pretty good matchup -- but he'll be playing his first career game with an equally inexperienced quarterback who deserves much of the blame for the Jaguars being the worst passing team in the league last year. Even if Blaine Gabbert and company showed improvement this preseason under the tutelage of Mike Mularkey, why take the leap of faith if you don't have to? Let Blackmon prove it in the regular season first.

So ... Hillis and Tate. On the one hand, I think my gut reaction is sound. The Chiefs are playing the Falcons, who ranked sixth against the run last year, but that's partially because they struggled against the pass at times, leaving the opposition with little incentive to run. With Matt Cassel under center, the Chiefs won't have that luxury, which means Hillis will get his opportunities to pound out yardage, perhaps even at the goal line.

But the Texans are playing the Dolphins, who are arguably the worst team in the league. Where they ranked against the run last year doesn't make a difference to me. They're destined to give up plenty of points in this one. The Texans believe in their running game. They'll lean on it heavily if they jump out to an early lead. And if that lead swells to a big enough number that they can turn to their second stringer for the majority of the carries, they will. It's the most prudent course of action, and it's a model they followed time and time again last year. How else would Tate have had the chance to accumulate 942 rushing yards?

In other words, this is the type of matchup that actually makes Tate the upside play in Fantasy. Hillis is a fine one, but in a split backfield, his upside is limited from week to week. It's basically touchdown or bust. Starting a true backup like Tate is a bit of a gamble since it relies on a series of assumptions, the first of which is the Texans winning big, but I think the logic is sound enough that I'd roll the dice.

In a standard league, I've been offered BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Marshall for Fred Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. I have Andre Johnson and Percy Harvin at wide receiver and Chris Johnson and Doug Martin at running back. Take the deal? -- @chriscaylor (via Twitter)

SW: As a general rule, sacrificing your second-best running back to upgrade your second-best wide receiver is a no-go, and I don't see why this situation would be any different. Even if you were convinced Martin was the bee's knees -- the kind of running back you could start every week, regardless of matchups, or perhaps even the second coming of Ray Rice, as his coach has suggested -- you'd have to be just as convinced of Marshall's superiority over Maclin to justify the loss of running back depth. Personally, I'm not sure they're all that different.

Yes, I'd rather have Marshall. I see the upside in him reuniting with Jay Cutler and recognize that he has less competition for catches than Maclin, who's starting opposite DeSean Jackson. But even in a best-case scenario, Marshall isn't exactly Calvin Johnson. During those glory years in Denver, where he played for an offensive-minded coach in Mike Shanahan and had Cutler throwing him the ball, Marshall wasn't piling up 1,400 yards or double-digit touchdowns. Granted, he's a safe bet for 1,100-1,200 yards and 7-8 touchdowns, which makes his floor higher than Maclin's. But if you're willing to look beyond the slightly elevated risk for Maclin, you'll see that those numbers are the most-likely scenario for him as well, which places the two in the same tier among wide receivers. And even if you happen to hit the worst-case scenario for Maclin, you have a more than adequate fallback option in Harvin.

Let's say you have such an aversion to risk that you still see it as an upgrade worth pursuing. That's fair. But at what cost? Jackson, lest you forget, was basically Arian Foster before he fractured his fibula in Week 11. OK, so on a per-game basis, his production was actually closer to Maurice Jones-Drew's, but you get the idea: stud city. Granted, part of the reason was because he was one of the few running backs carrying a full load, which may no longer be the case now that C.J. Spiller has had a chance to establish himself, but most of it was because he was just plain good, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 11.3 yards per catch. A combination of concerns -- mostly his health, age and role alongside Spiller -- allowed him to slip as far as he did on Draft Day, but they're all a bit overblown. I suspect he'll come closer to overtaking Johnson than slipping behind Martin in your pecking order of running backs.

Wouldn't you want to hold on to a player like that just in case Martin doesn't pan out as hoped? Or to play matchups? Or for bye weeks? I'll tell you this much: As far as the waiver wire goes, you're more likely to strike gold at wide receiver than running back early in the year, so if you are overloaded, it's at the right position.

And don't try to defend this deal by saying, "Well, I'm getting Green-Ellis back." He's a plodder. Granted, a steady 3-4 yards adds up with enough carries, but the Bengals offense isn't built to provide its running back with that sort of workload. It's the reason Cedric Benson was an underwhelming Fantasy option last year.

I missed out on a big-name tight end. Which of these players are most likely to break out: Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett or Jared Cook? -- @somsensneighbor (via Twitter)

SW: I like Cook the best of that group and by a fairly substantial margin. I see the upside in Olsen, but I saw it in him last year, when Cam Newton was a rookie and presumably more likely to lean on him. And what happened there? I also see the upside in Bennett, despite his lack of track record to date, but even going back to the days of Jeremy Shockey, the Giants haven't made their tight end much of a priority.

So why am I so enthusiastic about Cook? Partially because coach Mike Munchak is enthusiastic, saying back in March that Cook was someone the Titans "started to recognize" at the end of last year and that he'll "be a great weapon for us." Partially because I've witnessed it myself, having seen him turn a short catch into an 80-yard score in Week 4 last year and beat double coverage for a 55-yard score in Week 16.

With that kind of big-play ability, he's basically a wide receiver playing the tight end position. You know who we were saying that about at this time last year? Jimmy Graham. Rob Gronkowski. Aaron Hernandez. Yeah, it worked out pretty well for them.

Maybe throwing around those comparisons at this point in the season is a bit overzealous. Cook was a raw player coming out of college, and if his blocking becomes too much of a liability, the Titans will shy from him. But if he's able to stay in the lineup, his ability to stretch the field at a position normally reserved for underneath safety valves could pay huge dividends in Fantasy. If you're hoping to compete with the big boys at the position, he's exactly the kind of low-cost player you want.

I play in a 14-team points-per-reception league that awards a five-point bonus for players who exceed 100 yards. Would you give up Torrey Smith and Jermaine Gresham for Steve Smith and Coby Fleener? -- John Horvay (via e-mail)

SW: A five-point bonus is huge. It's basically an extra touchdown -- and for a player who's already having a big game. In such a format, I'd go all out for the players in the best position to crack the century mark. A steady 80 yards is nice, but nice doesn't win championships.

So what type of player fits the bill? For starters, he has to play in a pass-heavy offense, and ideally, he'd be the one true receiving threat in that offense. That's a tough combination to find. To a degree, the receiving threats make the offense.

But not in Carolina, where Cam Newton accumulated the 10th-most passing yards last year by throwing to a bunch of scrubs. Oh, and Steve Smith.

Smith had six 100-yard games last year -- more than Roddy White, Jordy Nelson or Hakeem Nicks. His propensity for 100-yard games basically moves him up a whole tier in this format. He's still a bit riskier than those three given his 33 years of age, but his importance to Newton and the Panthers offense isn't changing.

Besides, you're not really comparing him to those three. You're comparing him to Torrey Smith, who despite his knack for the big play, still plays in a run-first offense and still starts opposite the equally talented (if slowly declining) Anquan Boldin. A good day for him would be 75 yards, not 100, and that wouldn't amount to much in this league.

Of course, you already knew Steve Smith was more valuable than Torrey Smith -- that's true for any format -- so the bigger question here is whether the upgrade is worth sacrificing Gresham. Forget about Fleener. He was invisible this preseason and doesn't appear ready to contribute at this level. Fleener wouldn't be starting for you in place of Gresham. Whoever you got off the waiver wire would.

You're giving up something in Gresham for sure. He's a popular pick for a breakout season, and I wouldn't dispute that possibility. But in this format, I don't see him getting enough 100-yard games to set him apart. I'm not sure he'll get any, in fact. For one thing, Andy Dalton doesn't strike me as a 4,000-yard passer at this stage of his career, which immediately puts the Bengals passing game in the bottom half of the league. And on the rare occasion Dalton does throw for a bunch of yards, most of them will go to stud receiver A.J. Green. Gresham will put up consistent yardage and probably catch a few touchdown passes, but big yardage isn't in the cards for him.

Don't let him be the reason you pass on a player ideally suited for your format.

In a standard 12-team league, I have Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco at quarterback; LeSean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw and Cedric Benson at running back; Greg Jennings, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Wayne and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver; and Antonio Gates and Jared Cook at tight end. What do you think? -- Tyler Bell (via Facebook)

SW: I think if Roethlisberger pans out for you, you'll have a contending team whose only real weakness is a lack of running back depth. Say what you want about the lack of alternatives in Green Bay, but Benson won't be the answer for you if and when Bradshaw goes down.

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But again, that's one flaw, and a timely waiver claim could easily remedy it. The bigger issue here is Roethlisberger. Entering the season, 11 quarterbacks stood out as being worthy of starting in all Fantasy leagues: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Roethlisberger was excluded for a reason.

For starters, he wasn't a high-end option last year. Oh sure, the cumulative numbers look fine, but at a time when 5,000 yards is the new standard for quarterbacks, a 4,000-yard season has to be nearly flawless to make a substantial impact. Roethlisberger's was as up-and-down as it gets -- a testament to the Steelers' preference for winning on defense.

Five of his 21 touchdown passes came in the same game last year, which worked out great for the owner who started him then but caused nothing but heartache in the weeks spent waiting around for him to do it again.

In these modern times, a good Fantasy quarterback has to contribute 250 yards and two touchdowns every single week. Roethlisberger met that standard in only three of his 15 games last season.

So what of this season? Who's to say he's condemned to repeat those same numbers? Look, we've seen him contribute 30 touchdowns before, so maybe it'll all work out for you. But considering he's transitioning to a new offense -- one he has been slow to embrace -- and beginning the year with his top wide receiver at less than top form following a lengthy holdout, I'm thinking he's more likely to take another step back this year.

If I was in your position, I'd be crossing my fingers on Roethlisberger and keeping an eye out for a trade possibility.

I'm already starting Demarco Murray and Ray Rice. I need to start two wide receivers and a flex. My options are Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin, Torrey Smith, Marques Colston, Donald Brown and Shonn Greene. Who would you choose? -- Ronnie Miley (via Facebook)

SW: The two wide receivers should be obvious. You drafted Marshall and Colston as your starters, and since their matchups against the Colts and Saints pose no real threat to their productivity, you shouldn't start second-guessing yourself now.

I suppose Harvin isn't too far behind in the pecking order, especially given his favorable matchup against the Jaguars, but consider who's throwing him the ball. With Christian Ponder, the potential for disaster is much greater than with Jay Cutler and Drew Brees. If you know you're destined to get good production from Marshall and Colston anyway, why take the unnecessary gamble?

Now, for the flex spot, the gamble might be worthwhile. Granted, I usually prefer running backs to wide receivers in the flex spot, but both Brown and Greene have their drawbacks.

For Brown, who I think is poised for a breakout year with no Joseph Addai to slow him down in Indianapolis, the biggest issue this week is the matchup. The Colts are at Chicago, which is historically good at stopping the run. The Bears ranked fifth against the ground game last season. Plus, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck might struggle on the road in his first career start, causing the entire Colts offense to stagnate. It's nothing to worry about long-term, but for this week, it's a concern.

Greene, on the other hand, seemingly has a favorable matchup against a Buffalo defense that ranked 28th against the run last year, allowing 4.8 yards per carry. But the Bills took great measures to improve their defensive line in the offseason, adding ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson via free agency and regaining tackle Kevin Williams from injury, and showed significant improvement against the run this preseason. Maybe that doesn't count for much, but given the likelihood of backup quarterback Tim Tebow stealing all of Greene's carries at the goal line, it's enough to make me hesitate. If Greene is unable to break off a big run or two against the Bills' revamped defense -- which seems unlikely anyway given his lack of breakaway speed -- then he might have a relatively quiet 70-to-75-yard day.

I'm not saying Brown and Greene are bad starts, per se, but seeing as Harvin has an ideal matchup, I think he stands the best chance of making a significant contribution for your Fantasy team.

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

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Player News
Vikings' Adrian Peterson to begin probation on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will begin his probation on Wednesday, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Peterson will begin community service, and will undergo counseling to determine whether he has a drug problem. Peterson will report to a probation officer once a month in order to take a drug test. The strict drug testing stems from an Oct. 8 pre-trail urinalysis. Peterson admitted to "smoking a little weed," though the results from the test were never disclosed. 

Probation officials will also determine whether Peterson needs to attend parenting classes. 

Per his plea agreement, Peterson was fined $4,000 and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service. He's required to perform at least 16 hours per month, which would allow him to complete to program prior to training camp.

Peterson is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million. The team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension. 


Austin Collie signs with CFL's BC Lions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Free-agent receiver Austin Collie has signed with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, the team announced Thursday.

"I’m excited to be joining the Lions and very much look forward to playing in the CFL," said Collie. "The wide-open play of the Canadian game and the passion of fans across the league is going to be a lot of fun to experience."

Collie played four seasons with the Colts and one with the Patriots. In his last NFL action, he caught four passes for 57 yards in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.


Eagles RB LeSean McCoy: 'I don't want to take less money'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Eagles running back LeSean McCoy reiterated Thursday that while he'd be willing to restructure his contract if asked, he would not accept a pay cut, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"I know how hard it is to keep a team together and I want to be part of this team. But I don't want to take less money," McCoy said. "I want to figure a way to make it happen [where] we're all together."

McCoy, who is due to count $11.95 million against the cap in 2015, turned in his fourth 1,000-yard season in the last five years in 2014, finishing with 1,319 rushing yards on 312 carries and 155 receiving yards on a career-low 28 receptions. All five of his touchdowns came on the ground.


Bills' Rex Ryan won't commit to EJ Manuel as starting QB
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) When asked about who his starting quarterback would be in 2015, Bills coach Rex Ryan said the team would look at every available option, reports The Buffalo News.

"We're going to exhaust every resource we can," Ryan said. "We'll look at free agents. We'll look at the draft. We'll look at anything."

The Bills have former first-round pick EJ Manuel on their roster, but Ryan said he would not commit to Manuel as his starting quarterback at this time.

"To say that he's definitely going to be the guy, it's way too early to say that," Ryan said.


Bills RB Fred Jackson excited to play for new coach Rex Ryan
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson said he hasn't had the opportunity to meet with new coach Rex Ryan, but that didn't stop him from expressing his excitement about the new coaching regime in Buffalo.

"I can't wait to play for him. I've heard nothing but good things," Jackson said Wednesday of Ryan during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "I'm looking forward to that [first] conversation when I sit down and talk to him."

The Bills finished 9-7 in 2014, which was their best record since 2004. While Jackson believes Ryan is going to "be that catalyst that comes in and pushes us over that hump," he didn't have many bad things to say about coach Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract New Year's Eve.

"I thought he was a tremendous coach," Jackson said. "He showed up, he worked hard, he pushed players to give their best effort. He got us to a 9-7 record -- we hadn't won nine games in 10 years. There's definitely some things about him that made him a great coach. It's just the way he exited. I don't think anybody expected that. 

"Players, the way we found out is we got a generic text from him, saying that he was moving on and he had chosen to opt out of his contract." 


Justin Tuck: Raider Nation would appluad signing Ndamukong Suh
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) If defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Lions, then he will become a free agent March 10 and there will be plenty of teams interested in the Pro Bowl lineman. 

Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck indicated if Suh wanted to sign with Oakland, then he would be welcomed in Raider Nation.

"(He's) Raider-ish," Tuck said, per the Detroit Free Press. "And that's one of the reasons why I know Raider Nation would applaud that move, beyond the fact that he's an awesome football player. He kind of fits the mold of ... the toughness and the ferocious player that built the Oakland Raiders."

It is speculated Suh will receive a contract worth at least $100 million. Tuck believes the three-time All-Pro deserves such a lucrative deal.

"The thing about him, you know what you're getting every day. Some of the tactics, you could probably do without, but he's a hell of a football player," Tuck said. "I would love to have the opportunity to line up beside of him and let him take all the double teams that I normally take."


Nick Foles: 'I plan on being in Philly' in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) There has been a lot of talk about quarterback Nick Foles' future with the Eagles, especially since Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly's former pupil at Oregon -- Marcus Mariota -- will be part of this year's draft class.

On Thursday, Foles addressed the rumors and stated he is expecting to be back on the Eagles' roster in 2015.

"Yeah you hear about it," Foles said in between doing paid appearances at Super Bowl XLIX, per NJ.com. "You are going to hear about it every single year. That's just part of it. The main word is 'rumor.' You can't put too much into it....I plan on being in Philly.

"I only listen to (head coach) Chip Kelly. That's what is most important. He is the one that will make the decision. Right now all I am going to do is work because I plan on being back in Philadelphia and playing with my team. That's all I ever thought. So that is what I plan on doing and I'm not looking at it any other way."

Foles added he hasn't talked with Kelly since the end of the season.

"We haven't talked a lot. He has a lot going on," Foles said. "This time of year you really just get away from everything. He is busy looking at the draft, doing all that. I saw he is more of the decision maker. Haven't really talked to him too much, but I'm sure I'll hear from him soon."


Dwyer pleads guilty in domestic violence case, gets probation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer pleaded guilty Thursday in Maricopa County (Ariz.) Superior Court to a single count of disorderly conduct pertaining to his domestic violence case, according to The Arizona Republic.

Dwyer was sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service following the plea, according to a court spokesman.

The 25-year-old Dwyer was arrested Sept. 17 for a July 21 incident in which he allegedly head-butted his wife in the face and broke her nose after she refused his sexual advances and bit his lip, according to reports taken at the time.

Dwyer's wife told police she reported the incident in September because she feared for their child's safety after seeing reports of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's arrest on child-abuse charges.

The Cardinals placed Dwyer on the reserve/non-football injury list after his September arrest. He did not play again during the 2014 season.


Tom Brady on Peyton Manning: 'I certainly hope he comes back'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) While the football world anxiously awaits official word from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning about his playing status for the 2015 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- and longtime Manning rival -- said Thursday he hopes the five-time NFL MVP will continue his career.

"What a great player he's been for this league," Brady said Thursday, per NFL.com. "He's a great competitor, and I've been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, 'cause the league will miss him if he doesn't. But those decisions are up to him. I'm sure it's up to whether he's mentally and physically -- that's what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he's back."

Archie Manning, Peyton's father, told NFL Network on Thursday that his son hasn't made a decision yet.

"Well, Peyton evaluates things; he's pretty good at that," he said. "I can't tell him what to do, and he hasn't told me what he's going to do. But I do know that he's really giving a lot of things a lot of thought. He's thinking about where he is physically, he wants to see how he can do this some more, trying to get over an injury."

Archie added starting over with new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will not be an issue for Peyton, if he decides to return next season.

"Yeah, but he loves Gary. He likes Gary," Archie Manning said. "He liked John Fox. He liked Adam Gase. All those things, I think, are considered with. But my deal is he's always made good decisions; he's pretty thorough. He's going to evaluate a lot of things, and I think he'll make a good decision."


RG3: 'I could've sat out the rest of last year' after hurting ankle
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) During a radio interview Wednesday night, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III indicated the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2 against the Jaguars hindered him the rest of the season. He missed six games due to the injury.

“I had never suffered an ankle injury of that severity before, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Griffin said, per The Washington Times. “It just became more and more tough the more games that we lost, because you know how hard your guys work, and you want to get out there and help them win games.

“I could’ve sat out the rest of last year, with how bad the ankle was, but I felt like I could play, and I wanted to get out there and play with my guys and help them win games. And that didn’t happen when I got back out there. Then coach made a decision [to bench me]. That was an unfortunate decision, and something we all had to go with because that was coach’s choice.”

Griffin will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2015. The Redskins have until May 3 to decide if they want to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract for 2016. 

Griffin added his focus this offseason will simply be on getting healthy.

“Last year, I wasn’t healthy, and it sucked,” Griffin told ESPN 980. “There’s no other way to say it other than that. When you dislocate your ankle in the second week of the season, when you and your team had big things in mind. So I guess it’s just getting healthy, getting a mental break, getting a chance to spend time with family, and then formulate my plan going forward from this year so we can go out there and win games.”


 
 
 
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