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Dear Mr. Fantasy: No time for complacency

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

So ... you ready for the playoffs?

I don't mean, like, emotionally. I mean intellectually. Have you put in the time to prepare yourself for a win-or-go-home scenario?

If you're still fighting for a playoff spot, you get a pass. Your energies belong elsewhere. Chances are playoff preparations would subvert your short-term goals anyway.

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But if you've already clinched a playoff spot, now is the time to act, before someone else beats you to it. Scope out Weeks 15 and 16. See what needs you might have at that point.

Waiting around until the Wednesday before could be what ends your season.

I've made the playoffs. What's the No. 1 thing to do now? Add depth? -- @CT_FOX (via Twitter)

SW: Wait, you mean you don't just plan to go on autopilot and assume all that win-loss stuff will take care of itself? OK, Mr. Overachiever.

Assuming the trade deadline has passed in your league -- and if not, what's up with that? -- I don't see how you have any choice but to add depth. You have to be smart about it, of course. If you've already clinched, chances are you have a lineup full of studs such as Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin -- players who you wouldn't consider sitting except because of injury -- meaning the kind of depth you should pursue is their handcuff options, such as Toby Gerhart and LeGarrette Blount. What good is gambling on a David Wilson if he has no legitimate chance of sniffing your lineup?

If, however, you have a starting spot that isn't quite as settled -- maybe you've been shuffling between Ryan Mathews and Michael Turner or have had to make do with Marcel Reece -- then you're more likely to benefit from a risk-reward type like Wilson. Jackie Battle isn't any kind of remedy for poor production.

You could also stand to benefit from looking ahead to Weeks 15 and 16 (or whenever your particular league conducts its playoffs). Knowing Beanie Wells is facing the Jets' 30th-ranked run defense this week is a great help for right now, but you don't so much care about right now. You care about Week 16, when he's facing the Bears' eighth-ranked run defense.

True, Wells is a borderline case. You probably wouldn't sit Peterson in Week 16 just because he's facing the Texans' second-ranked run defense. But at some position on your roster, even if it's just DST, you'll want to be prepared for when the matchups go bad. The playoffs are no time to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Danario Alexander or Malcom Floyd at wide receiver this week? -- @Oh_Dinky (via Twitter)

SW: Philip Rivers just hasn't taken to Floyd the way I thought he would at the start of the season. Yeah, Floyd has put up some Fantasy points lately with three touchdowns in his last four games, but to have only two games with more than 70 yards all season? Sorry, but I expected more. You'd think with Vincent Jackson out of town and Antonio Gates a shell of his former self, Rivers would have no choice but to lean on Floyd, but he hasn't.

So who has he leaned on? Over the last three weeks, it's been Danario Alexander, who already has three games with 70-plus receiving yards even though he's only been active for five. Before then, it was ... Ronnie Brown, maybe? I'd venture to say no one. In his first eight games, otherwise known as pre-Alexander era, Rivers averaged 233.3 passing yards 1.5 touchdown passes. In his last three, with Alexander unhinged, he's averaged 274.3 with 2.0 touchdown passes.

In other words, you don't have to make the decision because Rivers has already made it for you: He would rather fail than throw the ball to Floyd.

OK, so he still throws the ball to Floyd plenty. The targets kind of speak for themselves there. Still, by now, you have to recognize that Alexander is capable of doing more with those throws than Floyd is. The Chargers recognized it from the first time he saw extensive action in Week 9. Just think back to what coach Norv Turner had to say about the Rams castoff back before all this mess started Week 10 at Tampa Bay:

"Danario's going to play," Turner told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He's going to be a big part of what we do."

And don't you forget it.

Truth be told, I can't say whether or not Floyd will catch another touchdown pass Week 13 against the Bengals. It's plenty possible. But I can say with unwavering assurance that Alexander is the more consistent of Chargers wide receivers and the one with the higher upside.

I need to win to make playoffs in a points-per-reception league. Would you pick up Ryan Broyles or T.Y. Hilton to play over Steve Smith or Percy Harvin? -- @Westernsubs (via Twitter)

SW: I love Broyles. Let's get that out there right now. After that six-catch, 126-yard effort he put together on Thanksgiving, I'd carve a heart with his name in it into a tree if I could -- which is a total lie because, well, what's stopping me?

Why am I so found of him? Hey, I was the same way with Titus Young when Nate Burleson went down with a broken leg back in Week 7, and Young delivered similar results with nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns Week 8 against the Seahawks. The reason he couldn't keep it up is because a little guy named Broyles kept getting in his way -- and because, you know, he kept putting himself before the team, which is what got him suspended last week, which is what allowed Broyles to put up those numbers.

So let me ask you this: With Young now out of the picture, who's left to get in Broyles' way? Tony Scheffler?

When the Lions eventually settle on a second wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson, that wide receiver is predisposed to big numbers. The Lions as a whole are predisposed to big numbers. They like to pass, and with Matthew Stafford under center, they do a pretty good job of it. No, he hasn't had the best season Fantasy-wise, but he still leads the NFL with 3,429 passing yards. They can't all be going to Calvin Johnson. Free up a few cooks in that kitchen, and you'll really see a meal made.

Now, Young isn't off the team or anything. The Lions could always reinstate him for Week 13 against the Colts, but I think they'll have a pretty easy time justifying the transition to Broyles after the way that whole episode went down.

OK, now that I've made my feelings on Broyles perfectly clear, we can tackle the question at hand: Would I start him over Smith or Harvin?

Probably not Harvin, provided he's healthy. His role as sort of a split-wide running back makes him too productive to sit in points-per-reception leagues. But since I don't necessarily expect this week to be the week he returns from a sprained ankle, yes, I would anticipate starting Broyles instead.

And if it comes to it, I'd also start Broyles over Smith, who even in Cam Newton's best game of the season Monday, managed just four catches for 60 yards. He's become mostly a deep-ball threat on an offense that hasn't had much success with the deep ball this season. Newton doesn't have enough completions in him to sustain Smith along with Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen.

Most Traded Players (as of 11/28)
Player # of trades
1. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams 1,236
2. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions 1,219
3. Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers 1,208
4. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts 1,207
5. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots 1,197
6. Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers 1,173
7. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs 1,159
8. Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders 1,141
9. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons 1,136
10. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals 1,122

As for Hilton, he has some big-game potential, but he's in a kitchen with too many cooks himself. And the Colts' passing game isn't quite as productive as the Lions'.

Given Bryce Brown's performance Monday night, how worried do I need to be about LeSean McCoy losing his job? I have him in multiple keeper leagues. -- @liefmeyer (via Twitter)

SW: Brown unseating McCoy is a possibility worth pondering, but ultimately, it won't happen. With all of Michael Vick's struggles over the last couple years, McCoy has essentially been the Eagles offense, and his contributions in that role have made him a Fantasy stud. He scored 20 touchdowns last year, for crying out loud. I don't see how they could abandon him so quickly.

Of course, he wouldn't be the first high-profile running back to lose his job seemingly through no fault of his own, right in the thick of his prime. Shoot, if he played for the Bills, he'd just be the latest in a long line of early removals, from Willis McGahee in 2007 to Marshawn Lynch in 2009 to Fred Jackson just this year.

But for as good as McGahee, Lynch and Jackson were, they weren't McCoy. None was a top-three pick in Fantasy. None was on pace for a third straight 1,500-yard season at the time of his removal.

The Eagles like Brown, and his performance Monday will likely make them extra cautious in their treatment of McCoy's concussion. But now that they've fallen out of the playoff race, they don't stand to gain anything by transitioning to Brown now. Even if they think he's the better running back (which is still very much in question), all they do by benching McCoy is deplete the value of their greatest asset.

So when McCoy returns, he'll return as the starter, if for no other reason than to keep his trade value intact. Yes, I imagine the Eagles would trade him before they dropped him behind Brown on the depth chart, so as a keeper option, he's still about as safe as it gets.

But that's not even the most likely scenario. The most likely scenario is that Brown looks a little more human next time out and the Eagles decide to keep him in the backup role for the foreseeable future. He may cut into McCoy's carries a little more, but not enough to make McCoy any less than a first-rounder in Fantasy.

Which two of C.J Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw and Knowshon Moreno should I start this week? -- @KingFinlay (via Twitter)

SW: Now that Moreno has seemingly captured the starting job in Denver with Willis McGahee done in by a torn ACL, my immediate reaction is that Bradshaw is suddenly the least valuable of the three.

But of course, Bradshaw stands to benefit from an injury as well. The biggest impediment to his value, cherry picker Andre Brown, is now out for the season with a broken fibula. That development potentially vaults Bradshaw back over Moreno and perhaps even Spiller, but only if rookie David Wilson doesn't seize this opportunity to make a name for himself. The Giants did invest a first-round pick in him back in April, after all, and coach Tom Coughlin, when announcing Brown's injury, mentioned Wilson as a replacement with the endorsement of "it's his time."

For now, I'm assuming Bradshaw gets the majority of the carries, which means he should be in for a productive Monday night at Washington. Given the uncertainty there, though, Spiller I think is still the safest of your three options. He's part of a split backfield as well, but it hasn't slowed him down. Against the 29th-ranked Jaguars run defense, he's automatic.

Moreno's value is certainly on the rise, but his opponent this week, Tampa Bay, ranks first against the run. Given the matchup, you might as well take a chance on Bradshaw instead.

Is it time to drop Ben Tate for Justin Forsett? Would Forsett be a better add than Knowshon Moreno, Jacquizz Rodgers, Beanie Wells or Kendall Hunter? -- Don Gerardi (via Facebook)

SW: The answer to the second question should be pretty obvious at this point. Moreno and Wells are the most worth owning of that group. They're the ones with starting jobs, after all, so before you try to figure out the best handcuff option for Arian Foster, you need to make sure those two both have homes in your league -- preferably on your roster.

Now, as for the backfield situation in Houston, I don't believe Forsett has overtaken Tate on the depth chart. I understand he ran for 87 yards on Thanksgiving, which is more than Tate has offered in any game this season, but keep in mind 81 of those yards came on a single carry. He had just 6 on the other four. Forsett is a fine change-of-pace option, but his small stature has limited him to nothing more than that role over his five-year career. I don't believe the Texans -- or any other team, for that matter -- view him as a potential starter at running back. Tate would be starting for a third of the teams in the league.

I think the Texans have everything they could want out of a backup in Tate. He just needs to get healthy -- and by all indications, he's about there. Forsett might still have some long runs after Tate returns, but if something happened to Foster, Tate would be the one to carry the load.

Incidentally, my third choice from this list (after Moreno and Wells) would be Rodgers. He split nearly 50-50 with Michael Turner last week and was clearly the more effective back of the two. I smell a change coming.

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Does Randall Cobb lose must-start status when Greg Jennings returns? -- @theonly1Avenger (via Twitter)

SW: You mean he hasn't already?

That's not fair. Week 12 was the first time he hadn't scored a touchdown in five games. But he has averaged just 44.5 receiving yards over his last four games, so maybe his four-catch, 39-yard effort Sunday was the reality check we all needed.

I think Cobb will still have a role when Jennings returns, presumably this week. His ability to make plays underneath helps the Packers make up for their lack of running game. Still, quarterback Aaron Rodgers can throw only so many passes, and with another mouth to feed in Jennings, the 40-yard games could become all the more common for Cobb, making him a touchdown-or-bust-type Fantasy option.

I'm not saying you should release the guy. In fact, in points-per-reception leagues, you'll still want him active more often than not. But in standard formats, you'll need to choose your spots with him. Against a Vikings defense that ranks in the middle of the pack against the pass and the run, you could certainly do worse than him this week.

Should I drop Mike Williams, Colin Kaepernick, Danario Alexander or Marcel Reece for Greg Jennings? -- @jayceex37 (via Twitter)

SW: No.

Oh, you want more than that? OK, fine. Williams is droppable for Jennings just for the sake of upside. And if you have your sights set on the playoffs rather than the next week or two, the same goes for Reece, who is sure to lose the starter role when Darren McFadden returns from a high ankle sprain.

But as for Kaepernick and Alexander, I think they have more to offer than Jennings at this point.

Alexander should be obvious by now. Each of his last four games are better than any of the three Jennings had before getting hurt. He's beginning to look like a must-start Fantasy option, not to mention must-own.

Kaepernick is trickier because he plays a different position and still isn't the definitive starter in San Francisco. But by now, coach Jim Harbaugh has pursued the possibility of a quarterback change to the point that he probably can't turn back anymore. It's happening soon, even if not in Week 13.

And when it happens, you'll have a rushing quarterback who throws the deep ball -- kind of like Cam Newton, but perhaps even more reliable.

What will you have in Jennings? Hard to say. Randall Cobb and James Jones have both stepped up in his absence, and of course Jordy Nelson is still in the picture as well. My guess is Jennings will still have his big games, but from week to week, he'll be about as up and down as James Jones, making him borderline rosterable in standard 10- and 12-team leagues. Frankly, I'd rather have Kaepernick, especially if I was less than satisfied with whoever I was starting at quarterback.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Lions WR Calvin Johnson does not need offseason surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson indicated Saturday that he will not need to undergo offseason surgery, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Johnson had surgery on his ankle and finger last offseason, and while he missed three games due to injury in October, he played every game from November onward despite being limited by an ankle injury in practice. The Lions wide receiver finished with 71 receptions for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.


Patriots upgrade center Bryan Stork to probable for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:31 pm ET) The Patriots have upgraded center Bryan Stork to probable for Sunday's Super Bowl, the team announced Saturday. 

Stork was considered questionable with a knee injury after missing the AFC Championship game and was limited in practice Friday. The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against the Seahawks Sunday.


Geno Smith hopeful Jets bring back Percy Harvin in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith knows he can't make the ultimate decision, but he wants to see Percy Harvin back in New York in 2015.

"I would love for Percy to come back," Smith said. "Obviously I can’t make that decision, but from my short time with him he’s been a great teammate. He’s obviously a dynamic player and I’d love to see what he can do in this new offense."

Harvin played eight games with the Jets in 2014, catching 29 passes for 350 yards. 

However, Harvin is due $10.5 million in base salary in 2014, and is under contract until 2018.


Eagles' Nick Foles expecting to be starter in Philadelphia next year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:06 pm ET) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said he is expecting to be back in Philadelphia in 2015, leading the offesne.

"My expectation is to be out there and be the starting guy," Foles said, according to CSNPhilly.com. "I expect to be out there with my teammates leading them. I’ve never thought otherwise throughout this whole time. 


"I know there’s been a lot of things said, but the only thing I’m worried about is making myself the best player, the best person to help lead my team."

Foles, who threw for 2,163 yards and 13 touchdowns in an injury-shortened season, expects to be back at full strength by the time training camp rolls around.

"Completely healthy, ready to go," he said. "Just grinding away. Just can’t wait to get back out there."


Jets' Geno Smith doesn't know if he will start in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith said Saturday he is unsure of his status with the team and has not received a definitive answer from new coach Todd Bowles on whether he will be the starter in 2015, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.

Smith, who threw for 2,525 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2014, also isn't sure if the Jets will try to draft a quarterback in the first round like Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota, but he would welcome the challenge as more competition.


Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: 'It's really (Fitzgerald's) decision'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters Friday he really wants to see wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald back in Arizona next season.

"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t," Arians said. "We definitely, desperately want him to stay. He knows that. It’s really his decision."

Fitzgerald has a salary cap hit of $23.6 million for 2015 and the team will work to get that number down in the offseason. Team president Michael Bidwill said this week contract talks won't start fully until after the Super Bowl.

"I’m hoping and praying every day that it does happen," Arians said. "I’ve expressed to him personally how much it means to us."

Fitzgerald has not reached 1,000 yards receiving in the past three seasons and totaled 784 in 2014 on 63 catches with two touchdowns.


Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell set to test free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell is ready to hit the free-agent market during the upcoming offseason and feels the Super Bowl will be his last game in Seattle.

"I’m the prettiest girl at the dance right now," Maxwell said. "But yeah, it’s one of those things I’m excited about it. I would love to be here, but I’m ready to see what’s out there and see how things work out."

Maxwell, who was heavily targeted this year with the Seahawks secondary filled with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, grabbed two interceptions and defended 11 passes.

"Coming into the season I already knew teams were going to try me," Maxwell said. "But it was cool. I accept that. That’s more opportunities for me to get the rock and put my name out there."


Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


 
 
 
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