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Fantasy & Reality: Second-string impact

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Panic set in for 49ers, Bears, Eagles and Steelers fans last week when their respective starting quarterbacks went down with injuries (some in Philly might say panic set in months ago). Only the Steelers came out of their game with a win in a close shave with the Chiefs; the rest either lost or tied.

It appears the 49ers will get Alex Smith back for their Week 11 game against the Bears but the other starters -- Jay Cutler, Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger -- will be out. What are the implications for each team? We're glad you asked ...

Philadelphia Eagles

Of the backups-turned-starters, Foles is the best bet not just for Week 11 but for the rest of the season. Michael Vick's concussion could be the impetus for the Eagles to move toward the future and see what they have in the rookie, a tryout of sorts for the final seven games.

Foles fits for what the Eagles want. He's making quick decisions most of the time and throws with pretty good accuracy. A knock on him entering the draft was that he was slow to make decisions with the football, so this is a positive. Against the Cowboys last week there were several passes that were off target, which is to be expected considering he came in at a moment's notice. A week's worth of practice and working on his timing with the Eagles' starters could easily fix that. Foles also has a pretty strong arm, stronger than what we initially thought when he was drafted. During the preseason he connected on several long passes and put up a bomb to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin last week. Foles also has good mobility in the pocket -- nothing like Vick -- but better than your typical deer-in-headlights rookie.

Combine that with the receiving options in Philly along with the Eagles getting a starting offensive lineman back and then tack on the matchup against the Redskins, who rank dead-last against the pass and have allowed 21 or more Fantasy points to seven of the nine quarterbacks they've faced, and there's some pretty good potential here. He's worth starting if you're in a pinch but if you're just looking to speculate on a potential No. 2 quarterback for the rest of the season, look no further than Foles.

With Foles being a good replacement for Vick, the receiving options in Philadelphia should remain useful. I wouldn't count on a huge game from Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson but I'd roll the dice on them as starting options. I first believed Jackson was the better play, but after Maclin had the majority of targets last week and seems to be the better receiver for slightly-off passes compared to Jackson (who did make a circus catch vs. Dallas) I'll take Mac. And we did see Foles lean on tight ends near the end zone during the preseason -- half of his touchdown passes and three of four inside the 10 went to tight ends -- so perhaps Brent Celek could be better than a desperation choice. Ultimately the matchup against the Redskins (double-digit Fantasy points to 13 wide receivers and five tight ends through nine games) helps keep those players appealing.

Chicago Bears

Last year the Bears' season was over when Jay Cutler went down with an injury. Cutler's season isn't in limbo following a Week 10 concussion, but he's not expected to play when the Bears face the 49ers on Monday. Stepping in for him will be Jason Campbell, who is an upgrade over what the Bears had behind Cutler in the past but does kind of put a cap on the Bears' offense. All you need to know is that he struck out as the starter in Washington and was pushed aside as the starter in Oakland last season. If he was a decent quarterback who made his receivers better, he wouldn't be a backup. Hopefully no one is desperate enough to start him in Fantasy this week.

However, his arrival could impact Brandon Marshall significantly. Last week Marshall caught six of nine targets from Campbell. All but two passes traveled longer than 10 yards, including a bomb that was thrown well and caught in double coverage by Marshall. Campbell is known for throwing short and not airing it out. To wit, 58 of his 74 touchdowns have come from inside of 20 yards. Also, 31 of those touchdowns have gone to tight ends or tackle-eligible offensive linemen. For Marshall to have a good game he'll need about eight receptions, which is far from unthinkable. If Marshall could get over 100 yards against the Texans in a rainstorm last week he has a good chance to do about the same against the Niners.

The Bears would be smart to add an x-factor receiver like Danny Amendola, who tortured the Niners last week. That player just might be Matt Forte, who is a fine route-runner and has excellent hands. Expect Campbell to lean on Forte and for the rusher to get a crack at picking up more than the season-high 49 receiving yards he has already. The Niners allowed 78 yards on nine catches to running backs over the last two weeks, so it's not going to be a lay-up for the Bears.

Pittsburgh Steelers

If you're expecting the Steelers to keep throwing the ball without Ben Roethlisberger on the field, think again. Byron Leftwich's best days as a starter are long behind him (some in Jacksonville might argue they never came), but that doesn't even matter. Since Mike Tomlin's been the Steelers head coach it's seemed as if he'd ordered an edict to not throw unless absolutely necessary when Roethlisberger is sidelined. And it's a game plan that has worked -- except against the Ravens.

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In six games without Big Ben (there's a seventh but it was a meaningless Week 17 game), Tomlin's quarterbacks have handed off more than passed in every single game. And as you might imagine, the Steelers' running backs have seven touchdowns in those six games versus four passing touchdowns for the quarterbacks. The Steelers are 4-2 with both losses coming against Baltimore, who come to Pittsburgh in Week 11.

Now there's a chance that Tomlin changes his tune: The Steelers' offensive line has been pretty decent in pass protection (19 sacks allowed) and the Ravens will enter the game down another starting cornerback with Jimmy Smith sidelined with a sports hernia. If the Steelers had Antonio Brown active they might be willing to take some chances with the football. But with Brown next to Roethlisberger on the bench and the Ravens' run defense at its worst point in years, safe speculation is that the Steelers will lean on their three-headed run game and try to run their way to a win. Rashard Mendenhall is expected back this week and he should do well while expectations should be lowered for Mike Wallace and Heath Miller.

The time to trade is now

Not everyone has seen their trade deadline pass, and if you're in a league that can still deal and you have two quality passers on your roster, you can move one now without much trouble. Earlier this season owners wouldn't budge for a quarterback because there were so many to go around. But that was when Vick and Roethlisberger were considered good starters. Say you're one of these owners who deftly drafted a surefire starter like Matt Ryan and a rookie like Andrew Luck. Getting something, almost anything, for Luck could be wise since you'll probably never start him over Ryan down the stretch.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: The quarterbacks in the Bucs-Panthers game will make you nervous. Though the matchup is decidedly better for Cam Newton than for Josh Freeman, it's clear to me that both players will appease Fantasy owners. Newton will take on a Bucs pass defense that is getting by with a young secondary minus Ronde Barber. They were pummeled early on against the Chargers last week and had to make some great plays to keep the Chargers from coming back. Tight ends have decimated the Bucs of late and Newton has rediscovered Greg Olsen over the last two weeks (19 targets). Cam should deliver, as should Freeman. He's been on fire since the Bucs' bye week and even though this is statistically his toughest matchup since the bye, he and the rest of the Bucs offense is too good to pass up.

Reality: The matchup for Andrew Luck might not be as juicy as it appears. It's been documented over and over again that Luck isn't at his best on the road. Though he isn't as horrible as, oh, I don't know, Joe Flacco, he still hasn't delivered a reliable stat line. In standard formats, his best road game (18 points at Jacksonville) is equal to his worst home game (vs. Cleveland). While the Patriots' pass defense has looked as good as Bill Belichick in a sundress they will get cornerback Aqib Talib on the field, a player they acquired from the Bucs a couple of weeks back. Is he enough to make a difference? Maybe not against a great passing team but the Colts aren't quite that. Luck could be right back in that 18-point range even though the Patriots have allowed 20-plus Fantasy points to five of the last seven passers they've faced. Don't reach hard for Donnie Avery or T.Y. Hilton.

Fantasy: Steven Jackson is over the hill. One of the best parts of the bye week is that teams can re-invent their offenses and find new ways to move the chains. Or they can bring back old ways. Whatever works. The Rams got off to a hot start against the 49ers last week on the ground and Steven Jackson saw a season-best 29 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown. And before you play the "well he played in overtime" card, know that only five carries came in OT and he had 15 yards on those runs. Though he was helped along by a hot start, the resulting stats are indicative that not only can he still produce when given the opportunity, but that the coaching staff may be open to giving him those opportunities. With the bumbling Jets coming to St. Louis on Sunday, Jackson stands out as a great Fantasy option.

Reality: I don't get the BenJarvus Green-Ellis love this week. No one is more guilty than I am for projecting good games for The Law Firm but this week doesn't rub me the right way. Green-Ellis has averaged 3.4 yards per carry this season and just isn't doing much even though he's getting 15-plus carries for the Bengals in pretty much every game. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have played well against the run despite their skid, allowing four rushing touchdowns on the year and none in their last three games against the Raiders, Chargers and Steelers. They've also allowed one rushing back -- Jackie Battle -- to score at Arrowhead all year and turnovers played a big role in those opportunities for him. He would be a running back I would settle for starting this week with little to no enthusiasm. I much prefer his matchup at home vs. the Raiders in Week 12.

DST sleepers for Week 11

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

Last week's DST sleepers: Buccaneers (20 Fantasy points) and Eagles (five points).

Rams (vs. Jets) ... As of this writing the Rams DST is owned in 42 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. By the weekend they might be over 50 percent owned. Obviously the juicy matchup against the Jets is the reason why people are after them. Each of the last three defenses to play the Jets -- including the Patriots -- totaled 18 or more Fantasy points in standard leagues. The Jets have allowed 11 sacks in three weeks with at least one fumble and one interception per game.

Saints (at Raiders) ... This one comes with a couple of "ifs." If Darren McFadden is out as expected, and if Darrius Heyward-Bey also misses the game (he missed practice Thursday with a hamstring problem), then the Saints DST is good enough to go with assuming other sleepers that are owned in more than 50 percent of leagues like the Bengals, Cowboys or Buccaneers are not available. This is as low as it gets but it's still safer than the Eagles, Redskins, Colts and Panthers defenses.

Two more things

• A week ago I was "big" on Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline against the Titans. On Thursday I was "big" on Reggie Bush against the Bills. I feel like a "big" idiot. After watching both games it can be inferred that the Dolphins have issues all over the place with their run game and that Tannehill still has a long way to go as a passer. With Bush not getting the kind of work we had hoped for (maybe it's tied to his knee injury from Week 3, maybe it's tied to the coaching staff's interest in Daniel Thomas) and Hartline being too on-again, off-again, now is the time to start thinking twice about using Dolphins in Fantasy. Here's the rest of their schedule: vs. Seattle, vs. New England, at San Francisco, vs. Jacksonville, vs. Buffalo and at New England. Some favorable matchups there, but what good have they done Miami lately?

• Sort of related to the above post, we're all learning that these Thursday night games are colossal pigs. It only makes sense: The players are playing on only a few days rest and without much time to prepare, and that lack of turn-around time hurts offenses as well as defenses. Through 10 games we've seen one game decided by three points or less, three by seven points or less. We've seen eight teams score over 21 points and eight teams score 14 or fewer points. Fantasy studs in these games have been few and far between. The smart thing to do going forward is to bench your non-essential players, a problem a lot of people will have in Week 12 when the Lions, Texans, Cowboys, Redskins and Patriots all play on Thanksgiving (the Jets play on Thanksgiving too but not many of those guys are even on Fantasy rosters).

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: Vincent Jackson to return to Buccaneers at full salary
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) WR Vincent Jackson will return to the Buccaneers next season, at full salary, according to a report by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times

Jackson had been considered a target for a lower salary, to help improve the Bucs' salary cap situation. He'd previously said that he wanted to stay with the team but didn't want a pay cut. 

Jackson will be paid $9.777 million in 2015, with a cap hit of $12 million. 


Report: Todd Herremans has no plans to retire
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) Former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans is looking to continue his NFL career in 2015, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Herremans was cut by the Eagles on Friday. The Eagles are set to save $2.8 million against the salary cap. 

Herremans was a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft and spent his entire career up to this point with Philadelphia. 


Stephen Tulloch unsure of future with Lions
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Lions LB Stephen Tulloch isn't sure whether he'll be back with the team next season. 

Tulloch is scheduled to make $4.8 million in 2015, and the Lions could save $3.2 million against the cap by releasing him. 

So far, this offsesason, the team has not communicated its plans to Tulloch. ""I haven't heard anything about what's going on, my agent hasn't heard anything," Tulloch told Sirius XM radio. "We're just preparing to report, April 20th, accordingly to the mail we've received for the offseason program. It's out of my control.

Tulloch has recovered from the ACL tear that ended his season three weeks in. "I'm way ahead of schedule and I feel great," Tulloch said. "I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, it's crazy how you feel stronger than you did previously, before the surgery." 


Jonas Gray hopes to return to Patriots' plans
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Jonas Gray burst on the scene for the Patriots last season, rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a Sunday night game. Just as quickly, he was gone. 

Gray overslept and was late for practice, and coach Bill Belichick didn't give him another chance to showcase his skills. Gray was inactive for the Super Bowl. 

Gray learned his lesson. "The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should," he told Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. "But it's motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I'll never get myself in that position again." 

Still on the Patriots, Gray believes he'll get a clean slate next season, and he's spending the offseason preparing himself for the opportunity. 

I tell them, I'm going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn't enough," Gray said. "I'm going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I'm going to outwork everybody. That's what I hope to achieve


Ravens' Justin Forsett wants to build on 2014
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Ravens RB Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, nearly matching his career totals for his six previous seasons in the NFL. 

Forsett is scheduled to be a free agent on March 10, but he hopes to remain with the Ravens, saying he's "praying that everything works out." 

“I want to build upon it,” Forsett told the Baltimore Sun. “I want to be great. I didn’t come in this league to be a one-year wonder."


Lions' Stephen Tulloch progressing from ACL surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, reports FOXSports.com.

Tulloch said he was way ahead of schedule and feeling stronger since undergoing the surgery. Tulloch tore his ACL during a post-play celebration in September.


Reggie Bush says he doesn't plan to retire
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Three days after being released by the Lions, RB Reggie Bush said he has no plans to retire. 

TMZ reporters confronted Bush outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and asked if Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, was going to quit football. Bush responded with, "No." 

Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to let DeMarco Murray test free agency
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The Cowboys will let RB DeMarco Murray test the free-agent market, according to a report from Fox Sports Southwest

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said that negotiations with Murray's agents have been "slow". 

Jones said that Murray "is probably going to get some peace and see what's out in the market, and then we'll talk and see. I do believe deep down he'd love to stay in Dallas."

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The Cowboys will use the franchise tag on WR Dez Bryant on Monday, according to a report by Fox Sports Southwest

The team has been trying to negotiate a long-term contract with Bryant, a free-agent to be. If a deal can't be made by Monday's franchise tag deadline, the Cowboys will use the tag to keep Bryant a Cowboy. 

"I still think that (it) would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline," Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told Fox. "Looks like we're eyeing a franchise tag on Dez, but certainly won't stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal. ... We just don't want to lose his rights."

Bryant had 88 catches for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. 


QB Josh McCown's contract with Browns worth $14 million
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Quarterback Josh McCown's deal with the Browns will pay $14 million over three years, a league source told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

With incentives related to playing time and playoff berths, McCown could earn $20 million over the course of the deal.

McCown will earn $6.25 million in fully guaranteed money, with $5.25 million of it coming in the first year of the deal.


 
 
 
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