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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
Panthers sign WR Jarrett Boykin to one-year deal
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(2:22 pm ET) The Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Jarrett Boykin to a one-year deal Friday, per David Newton of ESPN.com. 

The 25-year-old receiver had a big campaign with the Packers in 2013, catching 49 passes for 681 yards, but fell out of favor last season, grabbing just three balls for 23 yards in 13 games. Boykin has 57 career receptions in three seasons, all with the Packers. 


Bears sign CB Alan Ball to one-year deal
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) The Bears have signed cornerback Alan Ball to a one-year contract on Friday, per the team's official website.

Ball, 29, spent the last two seasons with the Jaguars, but was limited to only seven games in 2014 due to a biceps injury. He racked up 59 total tackles, 17 passes deflected and three interceptions over that span. He has played eight NFL seasons with the Cowboys, Texans and Jags.


Titans sign CB Brandon Harris to one-year deal
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) The Titans have signed cornerback Brandon Harris to a one-year contract on Friday, per the team's official website. Harris played 11 games in 2014, his first season with the Titans. He finished with 11 combined tackles and three pass deflections last season.

Redskins' Thompson, Redd to compete for third-down back role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week at the NFL owners' meetings running back Chris Thompson will get the first chance to secure third-down responsibilities, according to The Washington Post. Silas Redd will also get consideration for the role of third-down back.

“Chris [Thompson] came in last year at the end and did some things, and we’re hoping that he can come back and stay healthy in the offseason and give us a little jolt back there,” Gruden said. “And Silas Redd will get every chance to do some things also.”

Although, the Redskins could look to bring in some competition before training camp begins.

“I also think that at the running back position in the draft, there’s a ton of them,” Gruden said. “It’s a very deep running back draft in my opinion, and we’re excited to add another piece at some point, hopefully. We have seven picks. Hopefully one of them will be a running back, or a free agent to compete. There are some good free agents that haven’t been signed yet. But, giving Chris an opportunity, Silas, Alfred (Morris), that’s where it starts. And we’ll add some more later on for competition.”


Falcons could bring in Matt Schaub to vie for backup QB role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Falcons coach Dan Quinn is not ruling out bringing back former Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub to compete for the backup role behind starter Matt Ryan, per ESPN.

"Schaub is certainly somebody that we could [add]," Quinn said. "As we get through it, we'll let you know if we go down that road."

The 34-year-old Schaub was released by the Raiders in mid-March. T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree are the other quarterbacks on the Falcons' roster.


Panthers' Rivera expecting Stephen Hill to contribute in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:45 am ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes wide receiver Stephen Hill is ready to make an impact in 2015 after spending the 2014 season on the practice squad, per ESPN.

“Very much so," Rivera said Wednesday during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. “He’s a guy we feel has an opportunity. We’re very excited about [seeing] Stephen during OTAs and minicamp.

“With his size (6-4, 215) and speed and his ability to get vertical, if he can assimilate to what we do -- and I think he will; he seems to be a very smart man -- he might be a guy that has an opportunity to contribute for us."

Rivera felt Hill's year on the practice squad was beneficial after the 2012 second-round pick failed to live up to expectations during his tenure with the Jets. 

“I thought it was a good opportunity to take a step back and take a break," Rivera said. “The thing I liked about Stephen was how he contributed to our football team’s success. He came in. He had been a second-round pick. He had no assumptions, no entitlement.

“He ran all the scout teams for us. He ran them hard. Gave us great looks, which is what makes us excited 'cause you watch a guy perform who could very easily dog it, and he didn’t. And you saw him grow. You saw him make catches. You saw him get comfortable in his own skin again."


Terence Newman reunites with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) The Vikings announced Friday they signed cornerback Terence Newman, who played for coach Mike Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati.

“That’s the biggest thing. He can still play. He came in the league later. I think he was 25 when he came in,” Zimmer said, per the team's official website. “He struggled a little bit in Dallas and then played great in Cincinnati. Last year, he didn’t play quite as good, so seemingly with me, we get things fixed a little bit. I really respect him, and I think he really respects me.”

Although terms of the deal were not officially released, NFL.com reported earlier this week the veteran cornerback's deal is a one-year, $2.5 million contract.


Gruden: Redskins 'keeping a close eye' on Santana Moss
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) With wide receiver Santana Moss still looking to continue his NFL career, Washington coach Jay Gruden said there is a chance the Redskins might re-sign the veteran receiver, who had just 10 catches in 2014.

"We're keeping a close eye on Santana," Gruden said at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix, per ESPN. "You know, that's something that we know where Santana is and he knows where we are, and something may work out down the road.

"I could always play with Santana. Santana's a great person. He's great in the locker room for us. He knows all the positions. I know he's going to be in great shape, and I would not hesitate one bit to call him."


Jaguars' Thomas won't try to measure up to Broncos' numbers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:11 am ET) New Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas told SI.com he has already begun working with quarterback Blake Bortles.

"It’s exciting, that first time you get to work out with your new quarterback," he said. "We’ve got a couple thousand more reps to go, but I’m really looking forward to that chemistry and growing with that entire offense."

The expectations will be elevated for Thomas, who is coming off two great seasons with the Broncos. However, Thomas isn't out to prove he can have the same production without Peyton Manning throwing him passes.

"I think I’ve got to be a little bit cautious on trying to prove so much," he said. "I think I’ve just got to go out there and work my hardest, and do everything I can to win every route, and see what happens. I don’t want to set a goal of 'I gotta have these numbers.' I’m just going to work my hardest every day, do everything I can to become a better player, and do everything I can to help out my team and this offense."

Thomas is also confident he will be able to coexist on offense with veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has been with the team since 2006.

"I don’t think we’ll have any problem playing together," he said. "I was actually talking to him this weekend. I ran into him; we both live in L.A. He’s a really good guy. I’ve met him a couple times before. We both have the same marketing company, so we know the same people, and people that I respect speak very highly of him. I think we complement each other very well. There are going to be things that he can teach me, and I can learn from him."


Former Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin: I still believe in Chip Kelly
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:59 am ET) Former Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin apparently has no ill-will toward Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly. Although the Eagles could not match the Chiefs' five-year, $55 million contract offer, which Maclin signed in mid-March, Maclin is still a fan of Kelly, who has overhauled the Eagles' roster this offseason.

"I still believe in Chip," Maclin said, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think Chip's going to do great things here. I have the utmost respect for him. Unfortunately, we couldn't get something worked out. But at the end of the day I'm very excited about playing for Kansas City and playing for Big Red."

As well as Maclin not being brought back, the Eagles traded LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles. They also released defensive end Trent Cole and offensive lineman Todd Herremans.

Maclin missed the 2013 season -- Kelly's first in the NFL -- due to a torn ACL. However, he returned in 2014 to post career highs in targets (143), catches (85) and receiving yards (1,318), while tying a career high with 10 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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