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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' Coughlin: WR Victor Cruz looks 'really good'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(10:18 pm ET) Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is encouraged that wide receiver Victor Cruz can return to form, according to the NY Daily News. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss 10 games last season.

“I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better. Victor looks really good, he’s starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he’s coming along well.” … As for when Cruz will be back at practice, full-time, Coughlin added, “I don’t know. I shouldn’t say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through.”

Through his five years in the NFL, Cruz has 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower to miss at least six months
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:40 pm ET) Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is going to miss between six and seven months, according to the Boston Globe.

Hightower had surgery this February to repair a torn right labrum. The team is concerned that he might not be able to be ready for the start of the reguar season. He played through the injury for a good portion of the 2014 season prior to surgery.

The 25-year-old started all 12 games he played, collecting 89 total tackles, six sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Packers to use pistol formation more often this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:27 pm ET) After implementing the pistol formation into the offense to help take stress off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' leg in 2014, the Packers are considering to use it more often this season, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"I like the pistol," head coach Mike McCarthy said during a break at the NFL owners meetings this week. "I think there's a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron. I know he likes it. There's a place for it year-round in your offense."

Although McCarthy has no intention of turning Rodgers into an option quarterback, the system provides unpredictability for opposing offenses.

"I would say this is about the third year it's been part of our pace and installation," McCarthy said. "Really, when we moved to it exclusively there at the end of the year it really wasn't a change for us.

"I liked it from a self-scout standpoint. It gives you another self-scout variable when you're in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you. (There are a) lot of benefits to it."


Report: Vikings sign CB Terence Newman
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) The Vikings have signed cornerback Terence Newman to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with $750,000 in guarantees on Thursday, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. 

Newman spent the last three seasons with the Bengals after playing nine years for the Cowboys. The 36-year-old has had at least one interception in each year of his 13-year career. The cornerback has recorded 741 total tackles, two sacks, 147 passes defensed, 37 interceptions, and eight forced fumbles. 


Kubiak wants Peyton Manning comfortable with playbook
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:54 pm ET) Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak wants to make sure that all of his players are comfortable with the new offensive playbook, including quarterback Peyton Manning, reports ESPN.

“I think you prepare to help him call that game throughout the course of the week," Kubiak said. “A lot of people put emphasis on him calling plays at the line, but you’ve also prepared to do that throughout the course of the week, so you, as a coach, 'Here’s what I think is best in that situation.' In a lot of ways you’re still working together. You’re just going about it a different way."

“You never want to put a player in a position where he’s doing something he’s uncomfortable with," Kubiak said. “One of things about having a veteran, especially like Peyton, he’s going to let you know, 'This is what I do best and this is what I feel comfortable with.' That’s what you need to go do as a coach. You might tweak things here or there that you think may help, but you’re never going to take him out of his comfort zone and what he feels like he does best.”

Manning, 39, recently took a pay cut of $4 million to help clear salary cap space for the team.


LB Brandon Magee still committed to playing in NFL
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:49 pm ET) After being released by the Buccaneers, linebacker Brandon Magee is going to participate in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. That being said, he is still committed to playing in the NFL, according to Pro Football Talk. 

Magee's agent, Blake Baratz, emailed Pro Football Talk regarding his client's desire to resume his NFL career.

“There have been rumors circulating that Brandon Magee, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, has given up football with the intention of playing professional baseball. This could not be further from the truth,” Baratz wrote. “While he does attend spring training for a few weeks up until the beginning of the NFL off-season program, he is 100% fully committed to playing in the NFL.”

Magee, 24, has seen action in 17 games the last two seasons, nine of which were in 2014 with the Buccaneers. He has registered 10 total tackles in his career.


Bill O'Brien: 'Sky's the limit' for WR DeAndre Hopkins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) With Andre Johnson now in Indy, DeAndre Hopkins enters the 2015 season as the Texans' undisputed No. 1 receiver.

“He had a really good year last year and the sky’s the limit with Hop (Hopkins)," coach Bill O'Brien told NFL Network. "He’s an excellent young player who works extremely hard and we’re looking forward to putting together our whole receiving corps and he should be the leader of that.”

Hopkins led Houston with 1,210 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last year. He has 128 catches for 2,012 yards and eight scores in his two NFL seasons.


Giants RB Shane Vereen will be more than third-down back
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:28 pm ET) Giants running back Shane Vereen is being viewed as much more than just a third-down running back, according to nj.com.

The team is excited about his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but he'll be relied on to do more than that.

"I see him in that regard as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield, a pass protector, a guy who runs the ball in the three-wide offense in the run game, if you will, which is very prevalent today in our sport," coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL Annual Meetings this week. "So I see him in that regard."

Last season the Giants did not have one receiving touchdown by a running back. Vereen, formerly of the Patriots, had three receiving touchdowns out of the backfield last year.

"Well, you know what [Vereen] can do. Quite frankly, it's something from an attack standpoint we've had some success with, but not to the extent that he has," Coughlin said. "When you look at Vereen, a lot of the [Tom] Brady hookup with Vereen was the ball was almost automatically going to him. First down, if it was zone coverage, they were dropping the ball down and he would scoot. So we know that. Will we open it up to more parts of it?"

The 26-year-old has 907 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground, adding 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns through the air in four years. 


Chiefs confident they'll reach deal with Justin Houston
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:00 pm ET) Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told the Kansas City Star he's confident the team will sign standout outside linebacker Justin Houston to a long-term deal. The Chiefs put a $13.1 million nonexclusive franchise tag on Houston, which he has yet to sign.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

Houston has 48.5 sacks in his four-year career. 

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said.


49ers waive OT Jonathan Martin
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:42 pm ET) The 49ers announced they waived offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who played in 15 games last season, sarting nine. Martin, 25, was acquired by San Fran in a March 2014 trade with the Dolphins.

He has played in 38 career games with 32 starts.


 
 
 
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