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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
Giants OL Geoff Schwartz ready for individual drills; Week 9 status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:25 am ET) Giants coach Tom Coughlin said offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz (toe) will go through individual drills in practice Thursday. However, he still isn't sure if Schwartz will come off short-term injured reserve to make his season debut Monday against the Colts.

"We'll see. He's coming off a significant injury," Coughlin said, per the New York Daily News.


Giants announce Rashad Jennings will sit out again Week 9
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:18 am ET) Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday running back Rashad Jennings will miss a third straight game Week 9 vs. Indianapolis due to a knee injury. The team was hopeful Jennings would be back following the team's Week 8 bye.

Rookie Andre Williams will earn a third straight start in Jennings' absence. Williams rushed for 59 yards on 17 carries in his first start Week 6 at Philadelphia and then rushed for 51 yards on 18 carries in his second start Week 7 at Dallas.


T.J. Ward feels bad Gronkowski was hurt on low hit, but 'that's about it'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:11 am ET) Broncos safety T.J. Ward might hear a chorus of boos reign down in his direction during Sunday's game at New England, and that's because Ward was the player responsible for sending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to injured reserve last season.

Ward, who was playing for the Browns last season, ended Gronkowski's season in Week 14 last season with a helmet-to-knee hit that tore Gronkowski’s right ACL and MCL. Ward said he has no regrets about the play and wasn’t purposely trying to take out Gronkowski’s knee, per The Boston Globe.

"I feel bad he got hurt, you know, but that’s about it," Ward said Wednesday. "I’m just playing fast out there, and coincidentally, it was a bang-bang play. I think if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, then it wouldn’t be an issue."

Ward, who is seven inches shorter and 65 points lighter than Gronkowski, said the only way to tackle Gronkowski is by going low.

"Gronk’s a big dude. He gets hit, and he keeps going. Guys bounce off him, and he’s throwing guys left and right," Ward said. "I was taught that if you can take a guy’s wheels away from him, he’s no longer mobile, and that’s what you’ve got to do with big guys. I’m not going to go in there and bang heads with somebody that’s 60 pounds more than me. I’m going to hurt myself."


Titans OL Taylor Lewan pleads guilty to two misdemeanor charges
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Thursday in Michigan stemming from an incident that took place last year following a Michigan-Ohio State game, according to The Tennessean. Lewan entered pleas to charges of disturbing the peace and being drunk and disorderly.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Lewan is expected to get probation when he's sentenced Dec. 15. Lewan was initially charged with one count of misdemeanor aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery. Two Buckeyes fans said Lewan assaulted them. Lewan had previously stated that he was breaking up a dispute and wasn't involved in a fight.


Jaguars might consider changing up linebacker corps
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) While the Jaguars were pleased with how J.T. Thomas performed at middle linebacker Week 8 against the Dolphins, coach Gus Bradley is considering making a change to the linebacker corps because rookie Jeremiah George is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. 

"We’re looking at the linebacker spot, what’s our best three on the field?" Bradley said, per The Florida Times-Union. "We know J.T. played well. [Otto] Dekoda Watson played pretty well. Jeremiah George is showing up a little bit in practice, so a chance to see him in there and throw him into the mix. We’re trying to find a way to see as of right now, what gives us our best opportunity and what guys are playing the best on the field."


Bills' Kiko Alonso starts to run, but still has ways to go in recovery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is pleased with his progress as he is three months removed from ACL surgery.

"I’ve started running already," Alonso told Buffalobills.com. "I’m just doing straight line running, so I’m doing everything but cutting right now. Obviously I’m progressing to full speed running. I’m doing everything, but I’m limited."

Alonso said his knee feels great. However, he is being cautious with his recovery, which usually takes 7-9 months after surgery.

"My knee feels great," he said. "It definitely doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just a matter of time. You’ve got to let that ligament heal and strengthen the muscles around it. It feels probably where it should be right now."


Ben Roethlisberger deserves to start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It goes without saying that Ben Roethlisberger's six-touchdown, 522-yard performance Week 8 against Indianapolis was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, and I stand by my earlier assessment that he's too inconsistent to start in standard 12-team leagues. But that's more for those weeks when every quarterback is available. With six teams on bye, that's certainly not the case in Week 9.

For those owners accustomed to starting Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler, Roethlisberger may be the best choice. His matchup against Baltimore isn't great. The Ravens rank a suspect 22nd against the pass, giving up 256.0 yards per game, but having allowed just seven touchdowns through the air, they've surrendered the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Regardless of the matchup, though, Roethlisberger has a better chance than most of the quarterbacks who might be available of putting up the numbers you're accustomed to.

I'd prefer Carson Palmer, Nick Foles and Cam Newton to him, to name just a few fringy types, but Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Ricahrd both have Roethlisberger in their top 10 for this week.


Brandon LaFell not the only Patriots WR to consider
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It's time to give Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell a shot in Fantasy -- as in not just owning him, but starting him. If his 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown Week 8 against the Bears weren't enough to convince you, his matchup Week 9 against Denver should be.

It's not that the Broncos are so bad against the pass. They rank in the middle of the pack, allowing 242.9 yards per game. It's just that the Patriots' only hope against them is to beat Peyton Manning at his own game. Their passing attack -- at least the version they've shown in the last four weeks -- is good enough to beat anybody when they're motivated to use it.

LaFell appears to have leapfrogged Julian Edelman in the pecking order, but frankly, Edelman might not be such a bad play either. Tom Brady is going to need every weapon at his disposal to outscore Manning and company. Edelman is more of a desperation play than LaFell, I think, advisable only if you're short on startable wide receivers, but Dave Richard likes him enough with this matchup to rank him 24th at the position.


Shane Vereen a better choice than Jonas Gray
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) By giving the previously unknown Jonas Gray 17 carries for 86 yards Week 8 against Chicago, the Patriots revealed that they'll stick with a two-man backfield even with preferred rusher Stevan Ridley out for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.

But Week 9 against Denver might be a better matchup for preferred receiver Shane Vereen, who also thrived in Week 7 against the Jets. The Broncos, like the Jets, have done a good job stopping the run this season. They rank No. 1, in fact, allowing 72.4 yards per game.

Plus, the Patriots will most likely have to throw more than usual just to keep up with the league's highest-scoring team. These days, a team's only real choice against Peyton Manning is to beat him at his own game.

So most likely, Gray will spend much of Week 9 on the sidelines while Vereen spends much of it in the backfield. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Vereen among their top 20 running backs for this week.


Vincent Jackson not such a great play
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) On a day when the Buccaneers couldn't get anything going offensively Week 8 against Minnesota, wide receiver Vincent Jackson was barely involved, catching one pass for 13 yards. He was targeted five times, but for a player who misses a lot of the balls thrown his way, both because of his role in the passing game and his issues with drops, that's a pretty low number. He averaged 10.0 targets in his first six games.

Even worse for Jackson, quarterback Mike Glennon has developed a nice rapport with both Mike Evans and Louis Murphy, and the Buccaneers passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain three wide receivers. Is it more likely to sustain him than those other two? Yeah, probably. But it'll likely cut into his production regardless.

And it could cut into his production in a big way Week 9 at Cleveland. The Browns don't rank especially high against the pass, but they don't give up many touchdowns through the air, allowing the fourth-lowest quarterback rating of any team this season. Cornerback Joe Haden, who has played better in recent weeks after a slow start, is a big reason for that, and he'll likely go up against Jackson on Sunday.

Neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard rank Jackson among their top 30 wide receivers -- and that's in a week with six teams on bye.


 
 
 
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