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Fantasy & Reality: Solving the Cam-undrum

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Cam Newton's been anything but sensational through the first five weeks of the season. He has one game with multiple passing touchdowns, two games with at least two total touchdowns, one game with more than 300 yards, two games with over 250 yards and as many turnovers as scores (seven).

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Compare this to his first five games as a rookie last year. He had at least 300 yards in three of them (including two 400-yard outings to start his career) with 12 total touchdowns and six turnovers. He had multiple passing touchdowns in two games and totaled at least two touchdowns in four of five.

About the only place Newton has made strides is in rushing yards. He has 211 yards on 40 tries this season versus 160 yards on 40 carries last year. But that improvement doesn't cover up his problematic play as a passer and his woeful inconsistency is driving Fantasy owners nuts.

But here's the kooky part about all of this: He's tied for 12th among quarterbacks in Fantasy on the strength of two big games where he totaled at least 27 Fantasy points. In the other three games he had 30 Fantasy points combined.

I watched his snaps from his big game against the Falcons in Week 4 -- his best game -- and against the Seahawks in Week 5, his worst game. Believe it or not, there aren't many differences in how he passes despite his numbers. In both cases he was anywhere to slightly off target to horribly inaccurate anytime there was any collapse of the pocket and his feet weren't set. When he did have a second to plant his feet and not get pressured, he threw a pretty good ball. There were not a lot of times where Newton escaped the rush and still threw. Instead, he'd run or get sacked. The last play against the Seahawks was an example of Newton's foul passing: He went out of the pocket to either run or throw and by the time he had to throw it was across his body and into the grass in front of his intended end-zone target. His last pass against the Falcons was similar when he threw on third down in front of Steve Smith while on the run.

One huge difference in the two games was the play of his receivers. Against the Falcons Newton relied specifically on tight end Greg Olsen and hit him with several impressive passes. He also hit Kealoha Pilares on a screen that went for a touchdown on a broken play. A lot went right for him. Against the Seahawks Olsen was invisible; Newton threw his way once on the first drive and didn't go back to him until the fourth quarter. Steve Smith had two drops on the first three drives, Jonathan Stewart had three drops in the game, DeAngelo Williams had a drop. It didn't help that Newton was hurried quite a bit and couldn't maintain any accuracy. On top of that, the Seahawks did a good job containing Newton and not letting him run completely wild like he did against the Falcons.

But the story on Newton's passing is really the same as it is for most quarterbacks: When there's pressure, there are issues. It doesn't help that Newton's offensive line isn't as good as it was last season nor that Brandon LaFell isn't taking off like we had hoped. But Newton's play is at issue, and for a guy who has loved making big plays thanks to his natural athleticism, it's going to be a challenge for him to further refine his skills and become an accurate passer.

An improvement in the short-area passing game will go a long way in getting Newton back on track, but keeping opponents out of his face is what will be key. The Panthers come out of their Week 6 bye with matchups vs. the Cowboys and at the Bears, two teams with solid pass rushes. Newton might not thrive in those matchups but after that he has some dandies as far as weak defenses are concerned. Before the season ends he'll take on the teams currently ranked 28th, 29th, 31st and 32nd against the pass.

Cam Newton: Rest of season outlook
Week Opponent Sacks Pass D Run D
vs. QBs
Must-start?
7 vs. DAL 9.0 1st 6th NO
8 at CHI 18.0 13th 2nd NO
9 at WAS 8.0 31st 9th YES
10 vs. DEN 14.0 11th 3rd NO
11 vs. TB 8.0 32nd 11th YES
12 at PHI 7.0 9th 16th NO
13 at KC 12.0 8th 24th NO
14 vs. ATL 13.0 7th 29th YES
15 at SD 10.0 20th 4th YES
16 vs. OAK 3.0 28th 1st YES
17 at NO 11.0 29th 32nd YES

Newton's short-term future is risky, especially since he'll deliver a big fat zero this week and battle the Cowboys and Bears after that. If you're 2-3 or worse and have Newton on your roster, you might want to consider trading Newton to get some wins in your back pocket now. But if you're 3-2 or better then keeping Newton is definitely advised. And if you don't have Newton but want a passer with an incredible late-season schedule, go get him now ... or in three weeks after some more tough games.

For those who just can't part with Newton because of where you drafted him or think he's simply going to break out soon, here are five quarterbacks you can start in his place over the next three weeks. Once those three weeks are up, turn back to Cam.

Quarterback Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Andrew Luck, IND @NYJ CLE @TEN
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT @TEN @CIN WAS
Carson Palmer, OAK @ATL JAC @KC
Josh Freeman, TB KC NO @MIN
Weeden, CLE CIN @IND SD

You're putting your head in the sand if you scoff at Newton's play so far and think of him as a must-start no matter what. He's been reduced to a matchup-based quarterback, but that isn't a bad thing, especially later in the year. If we didn't have faith in his offensive coordinator, his skill-position teammates or his own skills, we'd be telling you to trade him for whatever you can get and not think twice about it. His clear abilities combined with a leap of faith in the Panthers offense improving around him make him worth owning so long as you don't need to win and win big right now.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Martellus Bennett and Dennis Pitta will rebound in Week 5. Bennett got beat up against the Browns but finished the game and ultimately has come back down to earth after living the Fantasy high life for the first time in his career. Pitta seems lost in the shuffle with the Ravens -- he was in on a season-low 52 percent of the team's snaps against the Chiefs (Ed Dickson had more). In three of the Ravens' other four games he was in on 70 percent of plays or more. However, the Ravens were balanced offensively and had the ball for just under 26 minutes the entire game, so Pitta just ended up not being part of the gameplan. Of the two, Bennett has the better matchup in Week 6 but I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't done hearing from Pitta.

Reality: Bills' skill-position players might be off-limits until Week 12. If you choose to start Bills players based on matchups then you'll probably find them on your bench for a long, long time. Their next five games are at Arizona, home against Tennessee (that's a pretty good one), then a bye, then at Houston, at New England (they typically play the Bills tougher the second time around) and home against Miami. Consider this your two-week warning to punt on Bills players. Or just ride them out and hope an easier schedule in Weeks 12 through 14 can give you a good late-season push.

Fantasy: Andy Dalton has arrived in Fantasy. Ugh. It feels like we're back to square one with Dalton. Does he need a second receiver to maintain big numbers? Does he need BenJarvus Green-Ellis to establish more of a running presence? Or does he need to find ways to score when he's inside the Dolphins' 25-yard line like he was twice in the Bengals' first three drives Sunday? How about all of the above? The Dolphins defense deserves a ton of credit and we could look back at them as being one of Dalton's toughest opponents this year. The Browns, even with Joe Haden returning, should prove to be an easier opponent for Dalton.

Reality: It doesn't matter who runs the ball for the Cardinals because they won't do well anyway. I had plenty of hopes for Ryan Williams this season but the writing was on the wall before Week 5: Even with the opportunity to be "the guy" he wasn't a lock to do well because of his offensive line. Williams was and is a talented running back, but with a shoulder injury putting him on the shelf for the rest of the season the Cardinals are left with LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith. LSH is more of a third-down back, Powell has a little muscle and some nimble feet but doesn't have breakaway speed and Smith was so impressive he didn't make the team out of training camp. Powell might be worth a stash but don't invest much in these guys.

Impactful injuries

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Robert Griffin III, Redskins: As of this writing it appears RG3 will play in Week 6. If he does it remains to be seen how he'll play. Might he run out of the pocket less or play with uneasiness? Concussions change how players play, and for a guy who's gotten by on his legs so far it might be a bad thing. A matchup against the Vikings doesn't help.

Cedric Benson, Packers: Benson suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his foot in a matchup he should have been dominant in. Without him the Packers offense struggled to hold a lead. Alex Green and James Starks will take over in the Packers' backfield but the hunch here is that Aaron Rodgers will go back to his pass-happy ways for the rest of the year.

Jermichael Finley, Packers: A shoulder injury sidelined Finley at Indy, and his absence further hampered Green Bay's offense. If he's out, look for D.J. Williams to soak up most of his snaps.

Ryan Williams, Cardinals: He's out for the year with a shoulder injury that requires surgery. The Arizona run game was in trouble anyway because of its terrible offensive line, but lacking talent in the backfield will only hurt them further. William Powell is worth some speculation but not if it costs you a lot.

Matt Cassel, Chiefs: I'm proud of what Eric Winston had to say about the Chiefs fans, who cheered when Cassel left the game against the Ravens. But any lost time for Cassel is bad news for the Chiefs and specifically Dwayne Bowe, who has 22 touchdowns in his last 29 games with Cassel. Brady Quinn has three career multi-touchdown games and two with over 250 yards passing (he's attempted a pass in just 15 games).

Alshon Jeffery, Bears: A fractured hand will keep him off the field for several weeks. He'll hurt Jay Cutler's production more than his Fantasy owners. Jeffery has a touchdown in two of Cutler's three games with two scores.

Bernard Scott, Bengals: A torn ACL sidelined him too soon, and it's too bad because he ran well against the Dolphins in Week 5 before getting hurt. Expect more work for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Brian Cushing, Texans: The Texans defense takes their first hit, and it's a biggie. Cushing is good against the pass but he's better against the run. Tim Dobbins takes his place, but it's not like the Texans' run defense will crumble without him. If anything, the concern is that the veterans in the middle of the unit (Dobbins and Bradie James) crack before too long.

DST sleepers for Week 6

All of our DST sleepers are owned in 50 percent of CBSSports.com leagues or less.

Last week's DST sleepers: Rams (21 points), Panthers (20 points), Vikings (14 points), Bengals (12 points). Good week.

Dolphins (vs. Rams) ... Miami's unit did a nice job keeping the Bengals in check, so it stands to reason they'll keep it up against the Amendola-less Rams. Steven Jackson's been struggling and the Dolphins run D is dominant. That will force Sam Bradford to throw to a depleted receiving corps. The results should be good for the Fins.

Rams (at Dolphins) ... St. Louis' defense is no joke, either. They jammed up the Cardinals on the ground and in the air and put up nine sacks in the process. They won't get even half that many against the Dolphins but they should be able to run with whatever the Dolphins offense shows them. If there's one player that could crunch the Rams, it's Reggie Bush. He might be the difference in the game, but not enough to completely demolish this DST.

Buccaneers (vs. Chiefs) ... Tampa Bay had a week off and will get the Chiefs with Brady Quinn starting at quarterback. Expect them to do everything in their power to corral Jamaal Charles and take their chances with Quinn's arm. It wouldn't be shocking if Kansas City became the third team in five games to get under 21 points against the Bucs.

Chiefs (at Buccaneers) ... The Chiefs' defense is improving based on how they did against the Ravens last week. Their pass rushers are starting to make life tough on opposing offensive lines and the Bucs have given up nine sacks so far. Tampa Bay has topped 24 points once in four games.

Two more things

• If the idea of the Patriots flying to Seattle to play the Seahawks doesn't get your heart pumping, you either don't know how good this Seahawks defense is or you're not a football fan. The Patriots' offense is playing at a break-neck pace, working at a level never before seen. I think they're the best they've ever been. And if Aaron Hernandez checks out healthy for this week's game they'll be loaded and ready to fire away. But the Seahawks defense is loaded with massive defensive backs, big defensive linemen, fast linebackers and a very underrated pass rush. It won't be hard for them to get their paws on Tom Brady and it wouldn't be a surprise if they played man-to-man with the Pats' big tight ends because their secondary is so physical. It might actually take a conservative approach by the Patriots to pull out a win against the Seahawks. Or, they'll just put up 28 points and dare Russell Wilson to throw with any measure of success. Either way, I think the Patriots will do well but not exceptional against the Seahawks. Can't wait for it.

• Anyone who is worried about Andre Johnson reserves that right, but don't freak out. Johnson's targets are off of expectations and his stats are suffering accordingly. This was one of two reasons why I thought it was a bad idea to take him with a second-round pick. But that said, Johnson is still expected to be a productive receiver for Houston and simply hasn't been vital to their gameplan like other receivers around the NFL are. Why? Well, Arian Foster might have something to do with it. The Texans aim for a balanced approach offensively, and Matt Schaub is not afraid to take what the defense gives him, which is usually underneath stuff to receivers not doubled up like Johnson usually is. If you want to rest easy, check out Johnson's first two grabs vs. Houston in Week 4 and tell me he's slowing down or not the receiver he once was. If anything, his weak stats have opened the door for shrewd Fantasy owners to get him on the cheap. And expect the Texans to throw a good amount in their next two matchups against the Packers and Ravens.

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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