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Fantasy & Reality: Scheduling conflicts

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's about that time. Either you're in the hunt or out of it, and if you're not sure if you're in the hunt then you're probably not. The Fantasy postseason starts in four weeks for most of us and the one thing every Fantasy owner can't afford to do is ignore the late-season schedule.

In a perfect world, our quarterbacks would throw against the Titans and Redskins every week and our running backs would go off against the Raiders and Bills. But only a handful of teams have good matchups down the stretch -- others have some nightmarish opponents that could cause some lineup-setting headaches. Knowing who plays who for the last chunk of the season could make all the difference in the moves you make before trade deadlines pass and waiver wire sleepers wake up.

Keep in mind that the strengths and weaknesses in defenses vary based on available personnel. When the season started the Ravens and Eagles were considered staunch defenses while the Dolphins and Broncos weren't on anyone's radar. Now the Ravens have lost a lot of talent and are struggling against the run and the pass and the Eagles' veterans aren't playing at a high level while the Dolphins and Broncos are opening eyes.

For the purpose of this study, we're evaluating defenses based on how they've been playing lately and not factoring in their stats from earlier in the season. We're also looking at Weeks 11 through 16, not Week 17.

Five teams with favorable schedules

Texans JAC @DET @TEN @NE IND MIN
Might be the best season-ending schedule for any passing attack. Patient Andre Johnson owners should get rewarded and shrewd Matt Schaub owners could find some pleasing matchups.
Cowboys CLE WAS PHI @CIN PIT NO
Five home games really help, especially against some suspect defenses (Redskins AND Saints). Those are wrapped around a trip to Cincinnati. Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Jason Witten could be easy starters for the stretch run.
Broncos SD @KC TB @OAK @BAL CLE
Cake schedule, but we've known that for a while. Still not too late to swipe Willis McGahee and Demaryius Thomas for a decent price (Eric Decker's value is too high).
Panthers TB @PHI @KC ATL @SD OAK
Could Cam Newton be a Fantasy hero? The only scary opponent (Atlanta) is the one he put up his best Fantasy week against this year. Should bode well for Steve Smith, too.
Giants BYE GB @WAS NO @ATL @BAL
The Giants are one of two teams to face the Redskins and Saints poor pass defenses in this six-game stretch. Really not a bad finishing slate for the G-Men, even with a bye week and four road games.

Five teams with terrible schedules

Vikings BYE @CHI @GB CHI @STL @HOU
For a team that's already in some trouble on both sides of the ball, playing at home once against division-leading Chicago over this stretch is bad news. If Percy Harvin misses Week 10 the time might be right to trade him for a starter (maybe two) who can help since he could be in for some tough games down the stretch here.
Chargers @DEN BAL CIN @PIT CAR @NYJ
No one should rely on Philip Rivers as a solid Fantasy starter in the first place, but this schedule doesn't offer a lot of promise. These road games are brutal.
49ers CHI @NO @STL MIA @NE @SEA
This won't be an easy finish for the 49ers: Four tough run defenses and three tough road games in the final six suggest selling high on Frank Gore. Vernon Davis might have similar difficulties.
Seahawks BYE @MIA @CHI ARI v@BUF SF
Probably the hardest run-defense schedule for any team between Weeks 12 and 16 -- maybe even enough to sell high on Lynch (Lynch for Doug Martin?).
Redskins PHI @DAL NYG BAL @CLE @PHI
Good matchups for Alfred Morris but not exactly the smoothest closing schedule for RG3. For him to really exploit some of these matchups he'll need his receivers to step up. Otherwise it could be ugly.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: The Panthers' starters won't be helpful in Week 10. Start with the run game, which is a total mess. Jonathan Stewart seemed like he had a firm grip on the running job but tough matchups led to some weak stats and last week opportunities were pulled in what was a good matchup. The Broncos defense should be fundamentally sound to handle whoever gets the ball on handoffs. As for the Panthers' passing game, if Cam Newton couldn't get it done against the Redskins, I'm just not sure how effective he'll be against the Broncos. John Fox has a good working knowledge of Steve Smith's strengths and weaknesses as well as the running backs he brought to Carolina while he was the head coach there. Fox and Cam never crossed paths but I'm pretty sure Fox has a good defense for the read-option after running it for much of last season with Tim Tebow. The aggressive Broncos pass rush should play a big role and limit the upside of Carolina's receivers. The Broncos should play well.

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Reality: Two Steelers -- Emmanuel Sanders and Isaac Redman -- will be helpful in Week 10. With a big thanks to our two Steelers RapidReporters -- Chuck Finder and Chris Adamski -- I've gathered that Isaac Redman will be the primary rusher for the Steelers on Monday against Kansas City. That's important since he'll get the biggest chance to slice into the 181.7 total yards per game the Chiefs are giving up to running backs. Jonathan Dwyer should be solid too, but Redman's 5.7 rushing average against the Giants last week was impressive, as were the 26 carries the Steelers gave him (Dwyer had 17 in both of his nice games a couple of weeks ago). As for Sanders, he's playing better this year compared to the two previous years. He's catching over 60 percent of his passes and will see a big bump in playing time for Antonio Brown, who has received at least eight targets in most of his games. Oh, and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley gets to extract some revenge on the team that sent him packing last season and might not hold back. Get these guys active.

Fantasy: Jamaal Charles is trustworthy. I'll take you back to four games ago when the Chiefs gave Charles a whopping 31 carries against Baltimore. The Ravens barely beat Kansas City but Charles trounced them for 140 rush yards. Things seemed peachy for Charles, but in the three games since he's totaled 29 carries for 83 yards. Injuries have played a role, but the lack of carries for Charles is what ultimately makes me nervous. How are Fantasy owners supposed to trust him against the Steelers, who have been dynamite against the run? The answer: You cannot. Pittsburgh has allowed just one 100-yard rusher all year and contained Charles to 58 yards on 17 carries (with a receiving touchdown) when they last played in 2009 in Kansas City. With all the turmoil surrounding the Chiefs and Charles' role questioned, he's a big big risk.

Reality: Cecil Shorts is pretty good, and he can get better. Count on Shorts being the Jaguars' best Fantasy option for the rest of the season. He's got some wheels on him and can break short passes for big gains or catch deep passes (he was robbed of one on Thursday against the Colts). What a lot of people might not mention is that Shorts played on all but one snap against Indy. Anyone think Jacksonville is going to have the lead in a lot of games this season? Shorts will play plenty and put up good numbers the rest of the way.

DST sleepers for Week 10

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

Last week's DST sleepers: Buccaneers (Eight Fantasy points), Raiders (Muscle Hamster-ed) and Saints (23 points).

I'm not going to lie to you -- this is a bad week for DSTs. You can check my rankings for proof that I liked the Colts DST as a sleeper (and they came through) but since I'm writing this on Friday it would be mischievous of me to write them off as a sleeper. With that said, your remaining choices are pretty nasty.

Buccaneers (vs. Chargers) ... San Diego is putting points on the board, landing at least 24 points in four of its last five, but DSTs still have managed to score double digits in two of those four 24-plus-point games along with the one game it didn't get to 24 points (Week 8 against the Browns). Philip Rivers has not thrown an interception in two games and he's been sacked at least once in every game. And the Chargers have a fumbling problem: As a team they've lost a fumble in each of their last four. Even with a depleted secondary the Bucs don't look half bad.

Eagles (vs. Cowboys) ... Yeah, it's that bad on the waiver wire. Romo hasn't thrown an interception in two of his last three games but the one he did he followed it up with three more. He's been sacked five times in the last two games. And the Cowboys have scored 24 points or less in all but one game this year. It's another Kamikaze DST (the Saints were one last week).

Three more things

• There are a zillion questions stuffing my inbox about the Raiders running game now that Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have matching high ankle sprains. I'm familiar with both Marcel Reece and Taiwan Jones, the two men tasked with replacing both Raiders runners this week. And I can tell you I am decidedly more confident in Reece being a factor in Fantasy than Jones.

Let's start here: Following the two times Mike Goodson left the field last week vs. the Bucs, Reece played 23 snaps while Jones played five. Jones basically gave Reece a little rest in the second half and had one carry for 2 yards where he was thrown to the turf by linebacker Lavonte David. Reece, meanwhile, was much more than just a running back. He lined up everywhere: in the backfield, as an in-line tight end, in the slot and even out wide as a receiver, which is where he was when he caught a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer on a go-route in single coverage. And that wasn't his only end-zone target in the game, as it became increasingly clear to me that Palmer liked throwing to him. And before you go writing off Reece as a poor rusher, you should know that he had a nice run negated by a holding penalty on his offensive line.

I know a lot has been made about both backs contributing this week against the Ravens, and there's no question Jones should see the most snaps of his career on Sunday. But from the very second Goodson went down against the Bucs, Reece was in and he rarely left. The Raiders have a human Swiss Army Knife in Reece and I expect him to be very useful against the Ravens.

• Two Dolphins players are big on my list this week because of the matchup against the Titans: Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline. The Titans have allowed nine-plus Fantasy points to five wideouts over their last four games. In that four-game span they've allowed eight passing scores total and 20 on the season. And this is wild: The only starting quarterback who did not post 19 Fantasy points or more against the Titans this season is Andrew Luck. Everyone else they've faced including Jay Cutler last week, Philip Rivers in Week 2, Matt Schaub in Week 4 and Christian Ponder in Week 5 have managed to hit that 19-point number. Tannehill has thrown multiple touchdowns in just one game and totaled two scores in two games, but the matchup is just too good to ignore.

• Before you settle in for the action on Sunday, take a gander at your live scoring page and consider any last-minute lineup changes based on the current score of your game. For instance, let's say you went up against Cecil Shorts this week and find yourself down by a bunch of points already. You might want to start a player with some upside for a big week over a "safe" player. Here's an example: Raiders running back Taiwan Jones versus Rams running back Steven Jackson. For all that we love about him, S-Jax just isn't having a productive season and has one game with 10-plus Fantasy points. There isn't a lot of upside to Jackson, especially facing off against the 49ers. Jones, however, has nothing but upside since expectations are already low for him. No one knows just how much he'll play against the Ravens, but one good run can throw dust on Jackson and help Fantasy owners get out of a hole dug by Shorts.

Point is, if you're losing heading into Sunday, consider making a move to a player with some big upside over a player who might be dependable for a certain range of points but nothing more.

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
Report: Chargers' Philip Rivers considering surgery for bulging disk
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has a bulging disk in his lower back, sources told CHris Mortensen of ESPN on Sunday.

Rivers converted a pair of fourth downs and led his team to a 14-play, 80-yard drive which resulted in a game-tying touchdown with just 29 second left on the clock in the fourth quarter. He compiled for 356 yards while completing 33 of 54 passes, adding four touchdowns and three interceptions in Saturday's 38-35 win over the 49ers in overtime.

According to Mortensen, Rivers is considering surgery at the end of the season. The Chargers are 9-7 and still alive for a playoff spot heading into the final week of the season against Kansas City.


Bears QB Jay Cutler expected back in Chicago with new staff
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:42 am ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is expected to be back in Chicago next season, likely with a new offensive staff, reports CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora on Sunday.

Cutler has accounted for 30 touchdowns and a league-high 24 turnovers for the 5-9 Bears. He has the seventh-best completion percentage (66.1) among all quarterbacks this season. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in January and is guaranteed to make $15.5 million next season.


Report: Falcons remain optimistic Julio Jones will play Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:33 am ET) The Falcons remain optimistic that wide receiver Julio Jones will be in the starting lineup Sunday against New Orleans, despite missing another week of practice because of a hip injury, Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports.

Jones ran on Saturday and will test his injured hip hours before kickoff in order to see how it responds. According to Breer, Jones' hip is in "better shape" than last week, and if he warms up without any setbacks, he'll be cleared to play Sunday.

Jones is third among all receivers in receptions (93) and second in receiving yards (1,428) this season. Harry Douglas would get the start if Jones sits out a second straight game.

Atlanta has moved from 6-point to a 6 1/2-point underdog at New Orleans.


Reports: Colts WR T.Y. Hilton a 'long shot' to play Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who missed a week of practice due to a nagging hamstring injury, appears to be a "long shot" to play Week 16 against the Cowboys, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Hilton will test his injured hamstring during warmups, but will only play if he's at 100 percent and "can be himself," coach Chuck Pagano told Ed Werder of ESPN.

Hilton is tied for ninth in receptions (82) and fourth in receiving yards (1,345) this season. If he's unable to play, rookie Donte Moncrief will see a slight increase in playing time.

The Colts remain a 3 1/2-point underdog at Dallas.


Report: Cowboys' DeMarco Murray to play with protective pad Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:17 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is expected to play Sunday against the Colts, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports.

The plan is for Murray to play with a pad on his surgically-repaired hand, which he debuted during the team's final walkthru on Saturday. The Cowboys remain concerned with how his injury holds up on Sunday, and if they clinch a playoff spot in Week 16, Murray could be a candidate to sit out Week 17 in order to rest his injured hand.

Murray leads the league with 1,687 yards on 351 carries through 14 games, which is the most in franchise history. He also has 54 receptions for 395 yards.

The Cowboys remain a 3 1/2-point home favorite over Indianapolis.


49ers K Phil Dawson scores five points vs. Chargers Week 16
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) 49ers kicker Phil Dawson made five extra points but missed his only field-goal attempt in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Dawson didn't have much of a shot at converting his lone field-goal try, as his team tasked him with attempting to avoid overtime by nailing a 60-yard field goal at the end of regulation. He didn't come close, and the 49ers went on to lose in overtime.

Dawson has made 23 of his 29 attempts this season and is now 5 for 8 from 50 yards or more. He'll square off with the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree plays sparingly vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree managed just one catch for five yards in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Crabtree, who was questionable to play Saturday due to a knee injury, remained on the sidelines for large portions of the game, even donning a baseball cap at one point. It appeared he was set to play only in an emergency situation. However, the receiving corps was struck by multiple injuries, leaving the team to turn to Crabtree late, and he recorded his only catch in overtime.

Crabtree will try and heal up in time to serve a larger role in his team's season finale against the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers WR Anquan Boldin catches seven passes vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin recorded a team-high seven receptions on nine targets for 61 yards in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Boldin managed more than half of the team's receiving production Saturday, as the other San Francisco players combined for only 53 yards on eight receptions, though rookie Bruce Ellington did managed to catch a touchdown.

Boldin had his best performance since a nine-catch, 137-yard breakout in Week 12. He's racked up 81 receptions for 981 yards with four touchdowns going into a Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals, a team for which he played from 2003 to 2009. He'll be looking to secure his seventh career 1,000-yard performance in the season finale.


49ers WR Bruce Ellington scores twice in Week 16 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington tallied three rushing attempts for 12 yards and a touchdown and added an eight-yard touchdown reception in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Ellington scored both of his touchdowns in the second quarter, first hauling in the eight-yard touchdown on a play-action pass for which he was wide open. He then added the rushing touchdown on a jet play on third-and-goal where he took the ball on the move immediately after the snap and found a crease on the right side for the score.

It wasn't all positive for the rookie, as he was ruled out in the second half with a hamstring injury. If he can heal sufficiently during the upcoming week, he'll be in line to face the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers RB Frank Gore rumbles for 158 yards vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:58 am ET) 49ers running back Frank Gore racked up 26 carries for 158 rushing yards with one touchdown in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Both numbers represent season highs for Gore, who hasn't had a better rushing day since the 2009 season. He set the tone early, shaking off would-be tacklers en route to a 52-yard score less than two minutes into the game. Gore continually proved difficult to tackle, as he would have managed his third 100-yard game of the season even without the long touchdown.

Gore is now up to 962 rushing yards and four rushing scores on 230 carries. He has a reasonable shot at cracking the 1,000-yard mark in his team's Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals.


 
 
 
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