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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
Titans' Lewan says QB Mettenberger still views himself as starter
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) Even though the Titans drafted quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second-overall pick, tackle Taylor Lewan said that QB Zach Mettenberger, who started six games last season as a rookie, still regards himself as the starter, reports the Tennessean.com.

"That is the mentality that Zach has. He thinks of himself as a starter, and the guys in the locker room do also," Lewan said. "I don't think he is going to give it up easily,"
Lewan was the Titans' first-round pick in last year's draft.

Browns' Pettine: Josh McCown favorite to enter camp as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a radio interview Monday that it's "fair to say" that Josh McCown will enter camp as the team's starting quarterback, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports.

Pettine had said in April that he wasn't ready to name McCown the likely starter for anything, but after the Browns came out of draft weekend without a new quarterback on the roster, it appears the former Buccaneers starter is in line to open camp atop the depth chart at the position.

McCown started 11 games with the Buccaneers last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


Bengals' Tyler Eifert (shoulder) on track for start of camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is on target to participate from the start of training camp, Bengals.com reports.

Eifert tore his labrum last offseason and dislocated his elbow in the first quarter of his first regular-season game. Rather than return late in the year, he and the team opted for season-ending shoulder surgery. The tight end said that his elbow has been cleared and he's waiting to receive clearance on his shoulder in a few weeks.

"I tried to play through the year. Once I had elbow surgery and I wasn’t going to come back, then I just got the shoulder done," Eifert said. "That’s why I’m excited now because I’m feeling strong, feeling upbeat. I’m not in any pain. It feels good."


49ers' Justin Smith to announce retirement decision in May
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith plans to sit down with team officials in May and decide whether he'll return for one more season, the Sacramento Bee reports.

"You'll know in about three weeks or so," Smith said Monday.

Smith wouldn't say which way he was leaning. He indicated that the the team's decision to draft a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft did not signal his impending retirement.

"We gave Justin liberty to make his own decision on his time frame," Baalke said after selecting Arik Armstead Thursday. "We went into the draft not thinking about what decision Justin’s going to make or not going to make. We just went in to find the best football player, the best system fit that we could."


Texans agree to four-year extension with LB Whitney Mercilus
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The Texans have agreed to a four-year contract extension with linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Mercilus will receive $26 million under the terms of the deal, which will keep in Houston until 2019, ESPN reports. He has missed just one game in his first three years with the Texans, racking up 122 total tackles and 18 sacks while forcing four fumbles.


Titans tailoring offense to Marcus Mariota's strengths
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Titans general manager Ruston Webster reiterated Monday that coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have begun tailoring the offense to fit the strengths of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, NFL.com reports.

"Our coaches have been working on a plan for quite some time now for Marcus," Webster said. "Really to adapting our offense to his skill set -- he has a special skill set. There's really not much he can't do from physical standpoint and he's very bright. That combination is going to allow him to do his own adapting to the NFL game but our coaches have worked very hard on coming up with a system within our system for Marcus. I think it will work well."

The Titans believe that Mariota will work fine under center and reading defenses despite not being asked to do so while playing at Oregon.


Cardinals' Carson Palmer (knee) participates in drills Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (knee) worked out Monday, participating with the first-team offense in all drills, NFL.com reports.

Though the action wasn't close to replicating game-like conditions, the quarterback said he received a big mental boost by joining his team after missing the last eight games of the season due to a torn ACL.

"You want all your guys out there," Palmer said. "I know I want my five starting linemen and my two starting receivers. You don’t ever want to see guys on the sidelines. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to do everything once OTAs start, but I’ll be able to do just about everything. It’s important (to participate) because I enjoy it. I can’t wait for tomorrow and I can’t wait for every day."

Palmer said the injury forces him to "start over from scratch" mechanically, as he works to regain the footwork and balance needed to be successful in the pocket.

“All those little things that still go through my head every couple reps, I’m fighting to get to the point where you just don’t think about that anymore,” Palmer said. “It just becomes natural. Just ingraining all those small mechanical movements is something that takes repetition after repetition.”


49ers GM says LB Aldon Smith developing as leader for team
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said that linebacker Aldon Smith has started to develop as a leader on the field and that he has a “a great look in his eye,” the team has reported.

"It’s a role I’m comfortable with,” Smith said. “I’m kind of one of the older guys on the team now. I’m one of the guys who has been here for a while, so I’m helping out people who need help with anything, whether that’s knowing where to go down here or football questions.”

Smith served a nine-game suspension during the 2014 season for violating the league's policies on personal conduct and substance abuse.

49ers place Chris Borland on reserve/retired list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The 49ers placed linebacker Chris Borland on the reserve/retired list Monday, CSNBayArea.com reports.

The move is a formality, as Borland announced his decision to retire in mid-March. The move clears $109.359 in immediate cap space. The 49ers didn't address the inside-linebacker position in this year's draft despite the retirements of Borland and Patrick Willis.


49ers waive/injured Chase Thomas
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The 49ers have waived/injured linebacker Chase Thomas, the team announced Monday.

Thomas made two special-teams tackles in five games played with the 49ers last season. He tore an ACL while working out earlier in the offseason and will presumably miss the entire 2015 season.


 
 
 
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