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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
Mark Sanchez: Eagles said Tim Tebow was just a camp arm
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:59 am ET) Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez said he wasn't concerned that the team signed Tim Tebow, because the Eagles told him Tebow was just there to throw in camp.

"We needed another guy to throw while Sam's (Bradford) still recovering. So that's the reason (for the signing), at least as explained to me," Sanchez said, per CSN Philadelphia

The Eagles signed Tebow on Monday. He hasn't played in the NFL since getting cut by the Patriots at the end of training camp prior to the 2013 season. He spent last year as a television analyst for the SEC Network. 

Tebow and Sanchez were teammates on the Jets in 2012. Tebow's presence as a back-up created a quarterback controversy among fans and media that last ed throughout the season. 


Vikings CB Terence Newman has familiarity with Mike Zimmer
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Vikings cornerback Terence Newman won't have a steep learning curve now that he's with his new team. 

Newman played under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Drafted in 2003, Newman learned Zimmer's defense from his rookie season through 2006, before Zimmer left to take the same position with the Falcons. 

“I just know exactly what to expect from him as a coach, as well as everybody else in this locker room,” Newman told the Vikings' website. “You play your best football under him.”

In his career, Newman has recorded 741 tackles and 37 interceptions. Entering his 13th NFL year, Newman has already impressed his teammates with voluntary workouts underway. 

“I met with him and he seemed like a great guy,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Like he’s going to come in and teach us what we need to know about the technique of the game and about the defense because he’s been in it before, so he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a big asset to this team and the defense.”


Chiefs pick up option on NT Dontari Poe
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Chiefs have exercised their fifth-year option on two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe, per NFL.com. He is set in Kansas City through 2016, when he will earn $6.146 million.

The 350-pound Poe has earned the money. He racked up six sacks and contributed to 46 tackles in 2014.


Lions GM Mayhew OK with James Ihedigbo skipping workouts
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Safety James Ihedigbo was the lone absence from voluntary workouts this week for the Lions. But general manager Martin Mayhew understands. After all, Ihedigbo's agent has stated that he would not work without a new contract.

"I look forward to talking with James," Mayhew told ESPN. "I understand what he's going through. I've been through that myself as a player, when I felt that a time in my career that I was underpaid and I had to deal with that.

"So I have empathy for him. I understand what he's going through and I look forward to sitting down and talking with him. I have great respect for him as a player, as a man. I've gotten to know him a little bit away from football and I understand how he feels."

Mayhew declined to discuss whether the Liins will rework Ihedigbo's contract.

The 31-year-old Ihedigbo contributed 71 tackles and two sacks with a career-high four interceptions in 2014 despite missing three games at the start of the year with a nerve injury. He earned Pro Bowl alternate status.


Eagles withdraw qualifying offer to RB Chris Polk
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Running back Chris Polk is now a free agent. 

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Eagles rescinded their $1.6 million tender they offered this past March. The Eagles placed the tender on Polk, previously a restricted free agent, before signing both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency. 

With Darren Sproles on the roster, it didn't make much sense for Polk to stay with the Eagles. 

In 2014, Polk ran for 172 yards and four touchdowns. 


RB Bobby Rainey signs qualifying offer with Buccaneers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Buccaneers have announced that running back Bobby Rainey has signed a one-year qualifying offer the team extended to him before the free agency period. He was a restricted free agent and was given an opportunity to negotiate with other teams.

Rainey will compete for playing time with Tampa Bay. He rushed for 406 yards in 2014, but faded at the end of the season with just two carries in the last six games combined.


Jaguars planning to play 2015 season without Justin Blackmon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) As far as the Jaguars are concerned, Justin Blackmon will not be lining up at receiver for them this season. 

At least that's the approach Jacksonville is taking. Blackmon has been indefinitely suspended since Nov. 1 2013 for three violations of the substance-abuse policy under the old CBA.

"Our process hasn't changed," Caldwell said, via ESPN.com. "[We] plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges, and he's going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we're able to get some news, but if not we weren't planning on [having Blackmon]. We're just going to go [without him]."

Before he can re-join the Jaguars, he'll need to file an application for reinstatement, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell making a decision within a 60-day window. The application letter would include details of the treatment he's received. 

Since being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Blackmon has only played in 20 games. He has 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in his career. 


Cowboys' Greg Hardy called 'woman beater' by teammate
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy got into an altercation with teammate Davon Coleman during a voluntary offseason workout, according to a report from Yahoo! Sports

Hardy reportedly questioned Coleman's work ethic during a conditioning drill, which led Coleman to call Hardy a "woman beater."

Hardy was accused of domestic abuse and was found guilty by a North Carolina judge. On the subsequent appeal, prosecutors dropped charges against Hardy and the case was never presented in front of a jury. 

Hardy has been suspended by the NFL for 10 games due to what transpired in that case. According to FOX Sports, the confrontation between Hardy and Coleman remained verbal


Lions and Rob Sims' representation haven't spoken in 3 weeks
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Lions need a left guard and Rob Sims would be a solid option if the two sides can strike a deal for the veteran to return. 

However, talks have stalled between the Lions' front office and Sims' representation. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said it's been nearly a month since he's spoken to Sims' camp. 

"We've had some discussion with Rob," Mayhew said, via MLive.com. "I spoke to his agent probably about three weeks ago and we had an offer out to him. That's kind of where we are right now. We'll have to kind of wait and see what happens."

The Lions could still opt to draft a lineman early to fill the position, too. 

Sims, who entered the NFL in 2006, has been with the Lions for the past five seasons. 


Andre Ellington OK with Cardinals drafting another running back
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) If the Cardinals decide to draft a running back in one of the higher rounds, running back Andre Ellington would be OK with it. 

Ellington was a three-down back for Arizona last year that got plenty of touches in the running and passing games. But if the Cardinals use a high pick on a running back, that could cut into Ellington's touches. 

That's something that wouldn't bother Ellington. 

“It’s whatever will better our team,” Ellington told the team's website. “That’s most important. No one is going to hate any decisions. I’m sure those guys will make the best decisions to help the team. We’ll accept any guy who comes in.”

Another quality runner could help Ellington, who dealt with numerous injuries a year ago, in the long run. His season ended last December after undergoing hernia surgery. 


 
 
 
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