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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
Browns FS Tashaun Gipson (knee) to undergo MRI Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:59 pm ET) Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson will undergo an MRI Monday after suffering a potentially serious knee injury in Sunday's win over the Falcons, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Gipson had to be carted off the field after colliding with teammate Joe Haden in the fourth quarter Sunday. "Gipson is one of the best safeties, one of the top three in the NFL for sure," Haden said. "Losing him, you can't replace him, but in the NFL nobody is going to feel bad for you."

Gipson was seen on crutches after the game. The Browns are set to play the Bills in Week 13.


49ers' Vernon Davis continues dismal season in Week 12 win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis continued his dismal season Sunday when the tight end was held to three receptions for 21 yards on five targets during a 17-13 win Week 12 against Washington.

Davis has not scored since Week 1 and has yet to catch more than four passes in a game or eclipse more than 50 receiving yards. The 49ers are back in action Week 13 vs. Seattle.


49ers' Michael Crabtree hauls in five catches in Week 12 win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught five of his seven targets during the 49ers’ 17-13 win over Washington Week 12.

Crabtree’s 58 receiving yards continued his streak of not producing a 100-yard receiving game during the 2014 season. The 49ers next play Thursday against Seattle.


Interceptions not the story for Brian Hoyer
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:50 pm ET) For the third time in four games, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for 300 yards Week 12 at Atlanta.

He had 322, to be exact. It was his second-best single-game total this season. But because of some miscommunication with star wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was making his season debut after serving a 10-game suspension, he also had a season-high three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter, both on passes that sailed well beyond Gordon's reach.

That's what miscommunication will do for a quarterback.

What will Gordon do for a quarterback? Well, even with all that miscommunication, he still led the Browns with 120 receiving yards. And that was with his longest catch going for just 24 yards. He and Hoyer failed to connect on all the deep balls -- again, a product of miscommunication.

The takeaway for Hoyer owners: Just imagine what can do when he and his star wide receiver are communicating. And I don't mean via text. Imagine when they've had more than just a few days of practice, when they've had a chance to get in sync and aren't missing on all those plays they could have made in Week 12.

Hoyer may be a so-so quarterback, but he's a so-so quarterback who could be in for a big finish, making him a player to monitor even in standard 12-team leagues.


Anquan Boldin helps lead 49ers to win against Washington
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin had a productive day to help lead the 49ers to a 17-13 victory over Washington Sunday.

Boldin was targeted a team-high 12 times and caught nine passes for 137 yards. Boldin had the play of the game on the 49ers’ first possession when he hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The 137 receiving yards marked the first time Boldin had eclipsed more than 100 receiving yards in a game this season.

The 49ers play Seattle Week 13.


Seahawks K Steven Hauschka kicks four FGs in Week 12 win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:41 pm ET) Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka made four of his five field-goal attempts while adding an extra point in his team's 19-3 win over the Cardinals in Week 12.

Hauschka was successful on attempts from 27, 32, 52 and 40 yards but had a 49-yard attempt blocked in the second quarter. The 13 points represented his highest output of the season, and Sunday's win was his first time in three games attempting a field goal of 30 yards or more. He faces the 49ers on Thursday.


Redskins hold 49ers' Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in check
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:38 pm ET) The 49ers struggled to get any of their running game going during a Week 12 win against Washington.

Running back Frank Gore struggled to produce rushing for 36 yards on 13 attempts which also included a lost fumble.

Running back Carlos Hyde scored the lone rushing touchdown for the 49ers on a 4-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Sans the touchdown, Hyde was also unproductive with 16 rushing yards on seven carries to go along with the first lost fumble of his career.

The 49ers next play Thursday against Seattle.


Seahawks receivers stay quiet in Week 12 win vs. Cardinals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:36 pm ET) Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette led his team in receiving yards Sunday, catching his only target for 48 yards in his team's 19-3 win over the Cardinals in Week 12.

No one receiver was able to deliver a breakout performance on a day where the Seahawks led for most the game and attempted just 22 passes. Quarterback Russell Wilson hit nine different receivers with completions in the game, with tight end Tony Moeaki hauling in a team-high four catches for 34 yards.

Tight end Cooper Helfet caught both of his targets for 27 yards and a touchdown, doing most of the work on the 20-yard score after catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Tight end Luke Willson (21 yards) and wide receivers Jermaine Kearse (19 yards) and Kevin Norwood (10 yards) each managed just one catch. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin caught two passes but for only six yards.

The Seahawks face a quick turnaround, with a Thursday night matchup with the 49ers on the schedule for Week 13.


Delanie Walker gets back in the game
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:29 pm ET) Tight end Delanie Walker, who had offered only modest yardage since averaging 79.3 in the Titans' first four games, exploded for a career-high 155 on five catches Week 12 at Philadelphia, finishing second on the team with nine targets.

His connection with rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger seemed to get better as the game went on. He first earned his trust with a 68-yard connection early in the second quarter. Then, with the Titans in desperation mode in the fourth quarter, the two hooked up on passes of 26, 13 and 27 yards. Walker also had a 21-yard grab in the second quarter.

It was the second time in four starts that Mettenberger targeted Walker nine times in a game. Considering Walker was active for only three of those starts, the two look like they have a good thing going. And because Walker is one of those tight ends who can actually turn in a big play, as evidenced by his four of 20 yards or more in Week 12, the uptick in targets is an especially encouraging development in Fantasy.

He's back to being a must-own tight end, I'd say.


Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch totals 82 yards vs. Cardinals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch managed just 39 rushing yards on 15 carries but added 43 yards on three receptions in his team's 19-3 win over the Cardinals in Week 12.

Lynch dealt with a back issue during the game that limited him in the first half, but he was able to return in the middle of the second quarter and play a significant role in the second half as the Seahawks kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard. Lynch delivered his two best performances of the season coming into the tough Week 12 matchup, and he'll look to return to that level of play Thursday in San Francisco.


 
 
 
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