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Fantasy & Reality: Matchup myths

Senior Fantasy Writer
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"It's all about the matchups" is my favorite Fantasy Football mantra. Talent is king -- the very best players are worth starting no matter the opponent -- but there aren't many of those guys. For everyone else, having a favorable matchup might be the deciding factor in having the confidence to start a guy over someone else.

Many assumptions made before the season about how a defense will play have fallen flat. Other defenses that were expected to be doormats have played beyond expectations. Anyone could check out how NFL defenses have fared in Fantasy against a particular position, but our job is to read between the lines and find the fallacies in statistics. Predicting how a defense will perform from week to week is tough, but with six weeks of film to watch we can begin pinpointing which defenses are as good as their numbers say and which defenses are phonies.

Overrated vs. the run

Lions: The stats say they give up on average 10 Fantasy points per week and 3.7 yards per carry to running backs. Yet three of the five running backs they've faced have had at least 10 Fantasy points against them; the two they pinned down -- Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson -- are mired in their own struggles. The front seven is good but not dominant. They can be beaten.
Upcoming matchups: at CHI, SEA, at JAC, at MIN

Buccaneers: The Bucs passed a big test by holding Jamaal Charles to under 50 total yards in Week 6, but that came with no vertical passing threat in Brady Quinn under center for the Chiefs. Charles also had 12 carries and got saddled with a back injury. It seems like the Bucs' run defense has dodged bullets this season -- holding DeAngelo Williams to negative yardage in Week 1 while he had just six carries being an example -- and they'll continue to look good when they play the pass-crazy Saints this week. If they can pin down Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews in consecutive weeks then they'll be a feared unit.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at MIN, at OAK, SD

Steelers: Big, bad Pittsburgh is ranked 10th in the NFL against the run, but the Steelers are the only defense in the top third in the category to allow more than 4.0 yards per carry. They've allowed a touchdown to opposing running backs in four of five games (only the Jets failed) and three of five opponents have cumulatively averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry, the latest being Chris Johnson. It must say something when the Titans -- who have shied away from leaning on their back -- run the ball 19 times against the Steelers. It wouldn't be a surprise if they slammed the door on the Bengals this week but upcoming matchups against Alfred Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice might get the better of them.
Upcoming matchups: at CIN, WAS, at NYG, KC

Underrated vs. the run

Browns: When you think Cleveland, you think pushover defense. It's been that way for a while. But through six games, they've allowed just three total touchdowns to running backs and only two 100-yard rushers. This has been without defensive lineman Phil Taylor -- who is expected to return soon -- and against the Giants they lost another big body in Ahtyba Rubin. Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes have helped pitch in on the D-line and will help the unit become stout against the run once they're back at full strength. Throw in linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and there could be some surprising outcomes from running backs playing the Browns in the future.
Upcoming matchups: at IND, SD, BAL, at DAL

Rams: The season started poorly for the Rams run defense but they've tidied up over the last two weeks, holding down the Cardinals (no biggie) and Dolphins (biggie). The key has been rookie Michael Brockers, who has helped with the pass rush (11 of the team's 15 sacks have come in their last two) as well as the run defense (one rushing score since he's returned). The better he and the run defense plays the better the Rams' chances are at becoming a dominant defense, because their secondary has been quite impressive so far. They will get challenged, that's for sure.
Upcoming matchups: GB, NE, at SF, NYJ

Broncos: The only time Denver really got overpowered by the run was when it played at New England. Using their hyper-speed approach, the Patriots worked in 50 rush attempts and pounded the Broncos for an unheard of 253 yards. Take away that game and the Broncos have allowed 391 rush yards and one rushing touchdown on 120 carries over five games. That's not even 80 rush yards per game. This is a good run defense despite being ranked 20th in run defense and 17th in Fantasy points allowed to running backs.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at CIN, at CAR, SD

Overrated vs. the pass

Ravens: To be fair, the Ravens weren't overrated, but the loss of Lardarius Webb combined with a fledgling pass rush will make them overrated. Dez Bryant dominated his competition in Week 6, catching a career-high 13 passes on the Ravens. Upcoming quarterbacks won't have many concerns about the Ravens' defense because of their injured starters and erratic pass rush. Rushing back Terrell Suggs from an Achilles tear won't help. Don't fear them.
Upcoming matchups: at HOU, at CLE, OAK, at PIT

Jets: This one has less to do with stats and more to do with a gut feeling. Yes, the Jets are coming off a complete defensive performance against the Colts, but it's one they matched up well in. They were able to pressure Andrew Luck early because of his O-line issues, and it didn't hurt that the Jets got off to a good start and pushed the Colts into being one-dimensional. The week before they took on a Texans team that attempted only 28 passes and played ultra-conservative football. You mean to tell me that the Jets defense that allowed five passing touchdowns in two games with Darrelle Revis is better off without him just because they've hampered Alex Smith, Matt Schaub and Andrew Luck in consecutive weeks? I'm not buying it, and I bet the Patriots shred their secondary this week. After that they face more lackluster quarterbacks but it wouldn't be a surprise to see some of them play well.
Upcoming matchups: at NE, MIA, at SEA, at STL

Cowboys: The Cowboys have the top-ranked pass defense in football. Not coincidentally they also have been thrown on the fewest amount of anybody, averaging 26.0 pass attempts against per game. Eighteen defenses allow fewer yards per pass attempt than the Cowboys, who are at 7.6 yards per. Pass defenses look good when opponents attempt fewer than 30 passes per game, which has been the case each of the last four games for the Cowboys. The pass rush hasn't gotten home much, averaging 2.0 sacks per game, and that's partially because they've been without Anthony Spencer for two games. And the secondary, for all the dough they spent on Brandon Carr and the big pick they spent on Morris Claiborne, looks good statistically but hasn't been tested much. Wait until they start taking on some real quarterbacks and we'll see how this unit looks.
Upcoming matchups: at CAR, NYG, at ATL, at PHI

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Underrated vs. the pass Buccaneers: You might not buy the Bucs' statistically-sound run defense, but the team's pass defense has held up despite allowing a bunch of yards. Three of the five quarterbacks they've faced have topped 300 yards. One has more than one passing touchdown and three quarterbacks failed to throw a touchdown against them in consecutive weeks. Now, one of those quarterbacks was Brady Quinn, but the other two were Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo -- not exactly slouches. They must work hard on getting their pass rush back on track; if they can do that then their secondary could really start shining.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at MIN, at OAK, SD

Dolphins: Everyone's on board with the Dolphins' run defense being strong. But they're getting better against the pass. Over the last few weeks they've played without cornerback Richard Marshall and slammed Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford (one passing touchdown between them). Fine, those quarterbacks might not be considered studs and same goes for Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez, but each of them had one passing touchdown against them with Marshall on the field. Kevin Kolb had a career game against the Dolphins and Miami has allowed a 300-yard passer in four of six games, but they're close to being a complete defense thanks to their pass rush (18 sacks).
Upcoming matchups: at NYJ, at IND, TEN, at BUF

Vikings: It's pretty clear that the Vikings' run defense, at least against people not named Robert Griffin III, will be tough to go up against. No group of running backs has posted even 4.0 yards per carry against Minnesota yet. So the prevailing thought was that the Vikings' pass defense would suffer as teams go after them. But through six games the Vikings have allowed one 300-yard passer and have limited quarterbacks to one or zero passing touchdowns in each of their last four matchups. The defensive backs have stepped up, especially Antoine Winfield, and this could turn into a defense that will be a real nightmare for Fantasy owners to start players against, beginning this week with Larry Fitzgerald.
Upcoming matchups: ARI, TB, at SEA, DET

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Aaron Hernandez will play on a limited basis at Seattle. Technically true because he didn't play a full game, but Hernandez more than doubled the 15-play estimation many people had for him in Week 6. I'm starting to get the feeling that when several reporters believe a player will be "limited," it really means the team is feeding information to throw off the opponent. Remember when Adrian Peterson was supposed to be limited in Week 1?

Reality: Here comes Darren McFadden. Against the Falcons McFadden plowed his way to 70 rush yards and a score on 27 carries and added 28 yards on three catches -- and even had runs of 15 yards and 21 yards called back due to penalties. The Raiders did more angle blocking instead of the zone-blocking scheme they've been running and it gave McFadden a better chance to make some plays. The Raiders' upcoming schedule is against the Jaguars, at the Chiefs, vs. the Buccaneers, at the Ravens, vs. the Saints and at the Bengals. It feels like the only thing that will slow down McFadden will be an injury. If you can trade for him, do it now. And when you do it handcuff him with Mike Goodson, because he's been running pretty well (8.1 yards per carry) and would replace McFadden in the event of him missing time.

Fantasy: Philip Rivers is a great quarterback. This one hurts. Everyone who knows me knows how big of a Philip Rivers fan I am, but he's been taken down a notch. His offensive line is in rough shape, and it has nothing to do with an undrafted rookie playing at left tackle. His receiving corps is in rough shape, and it has everything to do with the Bolts not having a replacement for Vincent Jackson. Put it together and throw in a passer with some lost zip on his throws and you have a mess in San Diego. I'm not ready to call Rivers a bust but if Vincent Brown's eventual return coupled with some returning players to the offensive line don't push his numbers up, then it could be time for the Chargers to consider other options. He's strictly a matchup-based starter for now.

Reality: Here comes Chris Johnson ... right? For the second time in three games Johnson has been productive. Not ridiculously productive like many hoped for, but productive nonetheless. It helps that his two games against the Steelers and Texans involved lots of carries, improved offensive line play and less dancing around by Johnson. We're getting closer to Johnson being great again and a matchup at Buffalo in Week 7 should help, but he's not "back." Shoot, a good game at Buffalo might just present another opportunity to sell high on him in a trade.

Impactful injuries

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: For a guy with a history of foot and ankle injuries, this isn't good news. A sprained foot will sideline him for at least a week, maybe more. Felix Jones is the fill-in who has a tremendous matchup against the Panthers in Week 7; Phillip Tanner will be his backup, which means he could be the fill-in by Week 8, since Jones hasn't proven to be the picture of health.

Trent Richardson, Browns: Rib cartilage was damaged at the hands of the Bengals and it could mean him being limited (we'll see if the team actually says "limited") this week against the Colts. Smart Fantasy owners will rush out to get Montario Hardesty to back him up. Savvy PPR leaguers might gamble on Chris Ogbonnaya too. But, as of now, estimations are that Richardson will play and he should slice and dice the Colts.

Jimmy Graham, Saints: There's a rumor that Graham's ankle is banged up and his availability is up in the air against the Buccaneers. There is no replacement for Graham if he's out; David Thomas would see a lot more playing time but it's not like he's 6-foot-7 and fast. Until there's something substantiated we'll expect him to play.

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Brandon Lloyd, Patriots: He hurt his shoulder late at Seattle and mum's been the word out of Patriots camp since. That's typically how things work in New England, Aaron Hernandez's ankle injury notwithstanding. We'll wait and see on this but it could mean more three-tight end sets for the Patriots.

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals: Kolb suffered a nasty rib injury that could sideline him for several weeks. John Skelton will replace him, which won't hurt Larry Fitzgerald's outlook any.

Jahvid Best, Lions: Best has yet to be cleared to play football after suffering multiple concussions last season. I have the feeling he won't play this year. Unless you have the patience and roster room, he's not worth keeping on your team.

DST sleepers for Week 7

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

Last week's DST sleepers: Dolphins (9 points), Rams (12 points), Buccaneers (18 points), Chiefs (11 points). Not bad.

This is a tough week because there are six teams on bye including two Top 10 Fantasy DSTs (Falcons, Broncos). You might have to really settle for a mediocre pickup if you're playing the waiver wire for defenses.

Raiders (vs. Jaguars) ... Let's give the Raiders some credit for shutting down Michael Turner, getting in Matt Ryan's face and picking him off three times while containing the Falcons' offense in Atlanta last week. That was a surprise, and a heck of a tune up for their return home to take on the Jaguars. Three of the last four DSTs to take on the Jags have posted at least 19 Fantasy points.

Bills (vs. Titans) ... I told you this was a tough week. Buffalo's defense finally showed some promise when it did a nice job against a Cardinals offense sporting a terrible offensive line and third-string running backs. The Titans' offensive line is a baby-step up from there and if the unit plays to expectations again in front of the home crowd, they could corral the Titans. Tennessee has scored 10, 14 and 7 points in their three road games.

Panthers (vs. Cowboys) ... Fact: The Panthers have scored more Fantasy points that the Steelers, Eagles and Cowboys DSTs so far. That includes their butts getting kicked by the Giants back in Week 3, by the way. Take away that horrible game and they've posted at least eight Fantasy points per game, including a 20-point effort in Week 5 against the Seahawks. The Cowboys' offense can obviously make some mistakes and their O-line has struggled to protect Tony Romo. The Panthers have 14 sacks this season. You really could do worse.

Two more things

• I'm not sure the Packers should be in any big hurry to bring Greg Jennings back. In fact, because James Jones has been lights out, he just might push Jennings off the roster if he keeps up this kind of work. The team has given extensions to Jones and Jordy Nelson over the last couple of years and Randall Cobb is still working on his rookie deal. Jennings is a free agent after this season. You could almost link Jennings to ex-coordinator Joe Philbin in Miami.

• If you have the chance to pick up any Broncos players, do it. If you have Broncos players, do not trade them. Check out their remaining schedule -- there isn't a tough matchup left for them and plenty of high-scoring matchups are ahead. And here's a sleeper to pick up in the interim: Joel Dreessen. Over the last three weeks he's been far more productive than Jacob Tamme and it looks like he's starting to dominate the playing time as well. Against the Chargers, he played three more plays than Tamme and had five more targets. He's the sneakiest of waiver wire adds this week.

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
Panthers LB Thomas Davis says he's not close to retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who turns 32 in March, is not contemplating retirement any time soon, reports ESPN.com.

“I lost two and a half years to injuries, but I also feel I gained two and a half years," said Davis, who underwent two reconstructive ACL surgeries on the same knee. "This was my 10th year and I’m going on year 11, and I still feel I have a lot of football left in me.’’

Davis has one year left on his contract, and he hopes to sign one more contract after that. Davis made 100 tackles this season after recording a team-high 123 in 2013.


Union challenges Goodell on Adrian Peterson's counseling requirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) The NFL Players Association filed a legal brief saying Commissioner Roger Goodell's requirement that Adrian Peterson attend counseling was unlawful, reports ESPN.com. The union claims Goodell's disciplinary powers don't extend past suspensions, fines and contract terminations to counseling, the report said.

In November, Goodell suspended Peterson without pay for the rest of the season and said the Vikings running back cannot be reinstated until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May.

In his letter to Peterson, Goodell set several requirements for reinstatement, including counseling.

"In order to assess your progress going forward, I will establish periodic reviews, the first of which will be on or about April 15, 2015," the commisssioner wrote. "At that time, I will meet with you and your representatives and the NFLPA to review the extent to which you have complied with your program of counseling and therapy and both made and lived up to an affirmative commitment to change such that this conduct will not occur again. A failure to cooperate and follow your plan will result in a lengthier suspension without pay."


Bucs QB Mike Glennon on the move?
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:03 am ET) With the Buccaneers holding the No. 1 overall draft pick, the team has its choice of quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. The Tampa Tribune says "some around the league" believe other teams will try to trade for quarterback Mike Glennon, and that Glennon could net the Bucs a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Glennon played in six games this season, throwing for 1,417 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions. The team's refusal to play Glennon "even after their slim playoff hopes faded" has many observers believing the Bucs are ready to move on from him, the paper said.


Lions see plenty of upside in WR Corey Fuller
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:38 am ET) The Lions are looking for a solid No. 3 receiver to supplement Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, and converted track star Corey Fuller could be the guy, reports the team's website. Fuller was Johnson's backup in 2014 and played in some multi-receiver sets, catching 14 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.

“I think I had a big improvement coming in from last year to this year,” said Fuller, a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft. “If I just keep on progressing, who knows where I can go.”

Fuller, who brings a unique combination of speed and strength, said his main focus this offseason is improving his route running.

“The whole (route) tree,” he said. “Being able to expand the routes they throw me.”


Steelers not expected to re-sign Ike Taylor
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) The Steelers likely won't re-sign impending free agent cornerback Ike Taylor, reports ESPN.com. Taylor, 34, dealt with multiple injuries this season and finished with 16 tackles in five games.

Taylor has spent his entire 12-year career with Pittsburgh. He said this month he's OK with 2014 being his last season.


Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart looking to build off strong finish
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:37 am ET) Over the last five weeks of the regular season, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 486 yards, second only to Dallas' DeMarco Murray. Stewart followed that up with 123 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over Arizona.

"I'm really excited for next year," Stewart told the team's website. "You have to find your zone throughout the offseason. It starts now."

Stewart got the chance to be a workhorse when DeAngelo Williams fractured his hand Week 13. ESPN.com reports there's a "strong possibility" the Panthers will release the 31-year-old Williams this offseason, leaving Stewart, 27, as the unquestioned starter.

"It's just part of the journey," Stewart said of the individual success he had toward season's end. "The moment you start focusing on that, you miss out on other things along the journey."


Report: Patriots hoping to sign Darrelle Revis to long-term extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Patriots are reportedly looking to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to a long-term extension, according Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

However, New England has not ruled out paying Revis the $20 million team option in 2015, Rapoport reports. The decision needs to be made by April 1, when a $12 million roster bonus kicks in for Revis.

Revis totaled 47 tackles in 16 games for the Patriots, grabbing two interceptions and forcing one fumble.


C.J. Spiller expecting 'March Madness' style free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Bills running back C.J. Spiller is getting healthy again. Spiller, who has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, just ended the final season of his contract and is looking at his options for next season.

"Physically, I’m back to 100 percent, back to doing normal activities," Spiller told The Post and Courier on Friday. "As far as football, free agency will start in March, and I’ll get with my people next week and get a game plan together."

Spiller has played five seasons for the Bills, only playing two full years. He ran for 1,244 yards in 2012 with six touchdowns.

"I guess you could say it’ll be March Madness," Spiller said with a smile. "It’ll be a fun March."


Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


 
 
 
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