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Fantasy & Reality: Defense wins championships

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ndamukong Suh has received more attention for his unintentional/intentional kicking habit than the Lions defense has received all season. But here we are in Week 15 and the Lions DST is as popular as The Elf on a Shelf.

Playing the lowly Cardinals will do that for you.

Just how bad has Arizona's offense become? They have produced 19 or fewer points in nine straight weeks and under 200 total yards in three of their last four games. Rookie Ryan Lindley (zero touchdowns, five interceptions, two fumbles in 120 pass attempts) will get the start behind an offensive line that's allowed a league-worst 51 sacks this season. That same offensive line hasn't helped open holes for the running backs in town; they've totaled six rushing scores. And here's the best part (or worst if you're a Cardinals fan): The last four DSTs to face the Cardinals -- Atlanta, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets and Seattle -- all matched or exceeded their single-game season-best Fantasy point totals. Seattle notched 45 points in Week 14 as part of a 58-0 blowout.

That's welcome news for the Lions, who are nothing special defensively. They have 30 sacks (tied for 15th in the NFL), 10 interceptions (tied for 19th), eight fumble recoveries (tied for 15th) and a grand total of zero defensive or special teams touchdowns. Their secondary is on fumes and their defensive line has underwhelmed for the most part. But because of the matchup, the Lions are a low-risk, high-reward Fantasy choice for owners to buy into this week. That makes them appealing and it certainly makes them a better choice than pretty much any DST that might have gotten your Fantasy team to this point in the season.

Like anything else in Fantasy, managing risk based on your own personal tastes is what determines who plays for you and who doesn't. There's risk no matter what DST you start of course but some are expected to reward you better than others. Knowing the risk-reward factor of all the prominent DSTs as well as those that might be available on waivers could help you decide on which one to start in your matchup this week.

Excusing the Bengals, who played Thursday, and the Lions, who were already discussed, here are the remaining DSTs you need to know about -- both the good and the bad.

Low-risk, high-reward

Packers (at the Bears): A huge key here is that the Packers will get pass rush beast Clay Matthews back for this one, and he was a terror against Chicago back in Week 2 (3.5 sacks). In general the Packers have racked up a slew of turnovers against Jay Cutler and haven't allowed the Bears to rack up a ton of points. Three of the Bears' last five opposing DSTs have scored 16-plus Fantasy points and the Packers should be in line to get near that total with Matthews adding pressure and the Bears' Swiss-cheese offensive line continuing to struggle.

Seahawks (vs. the Bills in Toronto): No one is benching a DST that went off for 45 Fantasy points last week and has double-digit Fantasy points in 10 of 13 games on the season. Buffalo's offense has an explosive element to it with C.J. Spiller in the backfield, but everything else about it is dicey. The Bills have scored under 20 points in four of their last six and have yielded 13 sacks over their last five games thanks to some offensive line injuries. Ryan Fitzpatrick is also on a three-game interception streak (with two touchdowns in his last four). This one's a no-brainer.

Low-risk, medium-reward

Texans (vs. the Colts): Everyone is expecting the Texans defense to step up after being humiliated by the Patriots on Monday. That makes sense for Houston but it's still going to be a tough, four-quarter battle to contain Andrew Luck. One thing the Colts do a lot of is pass and one thing the Texans have struggled with is defending the pass. They've allowed over 1,000 passing yards in their last three games! Luck's propensity to turn the ball over and get sacked gives Houston a cinch for some good stats, but Houston's D might not dominate the Colts like one might have thought several weeks ago.

Dolphins (vs. the Jaguars): Cecil Shorts' return to the field helps the Jaguars enough to make the Dolphins defense less appealing, but there's still the matter of Jacksonville allowing double-digit Fantasy points to nine of the last 10 DSTs its played. That includes many games with Shorts, and to be fair many with Blaine Gabbert under center, but Chad Henne has also been known to turn the ball over a time or four. The Jags' ability to protect the quarterback has been a problem: They've allowed 13 sacks in the last two games, 19 sacks in the last five games and 40 sacks on the season. The Dolphins can scheme to get to the quarterback and that's just the beginning of the Jaguars' problems.

Rams (vs. the Vikings): The Rams have posted at least 17 Fantasy points in each of their last three games, which helps reduce their risk of delivering a let down performance. Minnesota owns one of the best rushers in the game in Adrian Peterson but also one of the worst passers in Christian Ponder. As such, the Vikings have scored 21 points or less in six of their last seven and have totaled under 275 yards in two of their last three. If St. Louis' run defense were a little bit better they might actually be the hot DST to pick up off waivers instead of the Lions. But as it stands the well-coached crew should deliver even with Peterson getting his numbers.

Titans (vs. the Jets): The Titans don't offer much in terms of defensive talent but any opponent of the Jets is a friend to Fantasy owners. The Jets have totaled under 300 yards in three of four, have scored 19 points or less in five of six and have allowed 11 or more Fantasy points to opposing DSTs in six of seven games. That passes the sniff test for the Titans, who have posted 11 or more Fantasy points themselves in three of four.

Medium-risk, high-reward

Broncos (at the Ravens): Baltimore fired its offensive coordinator this week and is expected to combine a stronger dedication to the running game with a no-huddle approach to the pass attack. This doesn't mean Joe Flacco is suddenly going to turn into Peyton Manning just because his former quarterbacks coach is now his offensive coordinator, but it could result in a boost in production for the Ravens. They've scored under 21 points in three of their last four games -- twice against the Steelers and once against the Chargers -- so if the transition doesn't pay off against a good Denver defense it could mean a solid week for the Broncos.

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Jets (at the Titans): Apple turnovers are tasty for your mouth but Locker turnovers are tasty for your Fantasy team. He has at least two interceptions in each of his last three games to go along with at least a sack while leading his offense to 23 points or less (under 20 points in two games). Locker's Titans are finding ways to put up total yardage so don't expect the Jets to completely stifle them, but with Antonio Cromartie likely to wage battle against Kenny Britt and Locker's inaccuracy to show its face, it could spell Fantasy success. The Jets' ability to grind the clock with their run game could further push Locker to pass. Chris Johnson's run game has not been up to par either.

Medium-risk, medium-reward

49ers (at the Patriots): The Patriots have scored less than 28 points just three times all season. Tom Brady has been sacked four times in three games overall but has been sacked one time or less nine other times. His interceptions come rather sparingly -- four on the season -- and the Patriots offense has over 400 yards of offense in seven of 13 games without dipping below 320 yards of offense in any game this year. Even though the Niners haven't allowed 28-plus points to an opponent and have yielded over 300 total yards of offense to just four teams, the matchup at New England is difficult. Unlike their trip to New Orleans earlier this season, it's unlikely they'll get five turnovers from Brady and steamroll their way to a victory. So even if you start this talented unit, and even if they manage to contain Brady, the results might not be exciting.

Patriots (vs. the 49ers): New England's DST has come up big fairly often and they should have a chance to rattle Colin Kaepernick. The Niners have found ways to score without riding Kaepernick's arm as he hasn't thrown a touchdown in two weeks. He hasn't thrown an interception either. Those are streaks that could both come to an end this week, but the Patriots typically build a lead on their opponents and then defend the pass with relative ease. A similar situation could play out here but even so, it's worth noting that the Niners have held five of the last six opposing DSTs to single-digit Fantasy points.

Steelers (at the Cowboys): In the past it would be insane to sit the Steelers. But this is a team with a pass rush that has lost a step and a secondary that's been devastated by injuries. Last week, Danario Alexander played beyond our wildest expectations and helped upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Think they'll do any better against a Cowboys team with several receiving threats? Dez Bryant won't be at 100 percent but his presence on the field alone makes the task more daunting. Dallas has scored 21-plus points in four of its last five and won't slow down unless Bryant is out of the picture. This is a risky week for the Steelers without a ton of upside.

High-risk, high-reward

Bears (vs. the Packers): Aaron Rodgers might be throwing more like John Skelton than John Elway, but he still has a knack for torturing the Bears defense. Now, Chicago faces the Packers without leader Brian Urlacher nor cornerback Tim Jennings, who was on his way to a Pro Bowl until he got hurt a few weeks back. After starting the year with nine straight games with 11-plus Fantasy points, the DST has fallen to single digits in three of its last four. The kick-return game isn't what it once was and the defense, talkative as they've been, have a huge task ahead of them.

Raiders (vs. the Chiefs): Sure, the Raiders defense isn't effective but the Chiefs offense has been almost as ugly as the Cardinals. Save for their stoic Week 13 game vs. Carolina, the Chiefs have scored 16 points or less in every outing since Week 5 and have totaled under 300 total yards in six of their last eight games. Oakland's defense is more pathetic than Detroit's so there's some hesitation to call them a useful unit, but in a pinch they could come up with some good numbers. Only the Panthers have failed to score 11 or more Fantasy points against the Chiefs in 2012.

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
Chris Harris targeting midway point of preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who's coming back from ACL surgery, told ESPN he expects to be cleared for full participation by the midway point of the preseason. Harris said the exact timetable hinges on his upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris told the network. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."

Harris had 65 tackles and three interceptions last year before getting hurt in the playoffs.


Dimitri Patterson a starter by default
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Unable to land a high-end free agent cornerback, the Jets "were forced to settle for journeyman Dimitri Patterson as a consolation," notes The Star-Ledger. Patterson, who projects to start opposite Dee Milliner, is on his sixth team in 10 seasons and has played all 16 games just once in his career.

If Patterson falters, third-round pick Dexter McDougle could get a shot.


Fred Jackson in danger of losing carries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Bills running back Fred Jackson might not approach the 207 carries he received last year. According to WGR550.com, Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller but also potentially lose snaps to the team's additions at running back, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon.

The website said Jackson, 33, who's entering the last year of his deal, will be trying to prove how much he has left.


Teammate: Bitterness won't linger from Jimmy Graham standoff
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told ESPN that the the team's arbitration fight with Jimmy Graham over whether he's a receiver or a tight end won't have a longterm detrimental effect. Watson is hopeful the sides will reach a multiyear contract agreement by Tuesday's deadline.

"I’m very confident that it’ll be resolved the right way and guys can move forward," Watson said. "Obviously it’s always tough when you go through litigation with somebody, and it can probably get heated. And I’m sure there are emotions on both sides. But that is the business side of the game. 

"And it’s unfortunate that it came to that and that it was so public. But I really think -- I know, I don’t think -- I know that Jimmy loves New Orleans and I know that he loves our team and the organization and he loves playing here. And we love him, everybody wants him here, coaches included. So when it comes down to contract situations, that’s just a necessary evil ... not even evil, but just a necessary progression of getting a player here."


Dallas Thomas eyes starting job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named Dallas Thomas one of the team's most improved players, and he has a good chance to start at left guard, according to the team's website. A third-round pick in last year's draft, Thomas played only four offensive snaps last season.

Thomas worked with the first team during spring drills and is much further along than he was in 2013. He stayed in South Florida throughout the offseason to get better prepared.

"You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast," Thomas said. "You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field."


Spencer Nealy hit with four-game ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The NFL suspended Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, the 24-year-old Nealy did not play in a game last season.

Nealy apologized and took responsibility in a statement, saying he took a supplement containing a banned stimulant.


Jarrett Boykin will be 'hard to dislodge'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Jarrett Boykin improved dramatically last season and "will be hard to dislodge" from the Packers' No. 3 receiver job, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boykin will have to hold off second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-rounder Jared Abbrederis and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis.

Boykin, 24, caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.


Trent Richardson might not get long leash
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Averaging 2.9 yards a carry, like he did last year, will get Trent Richardson benched quickly, reports ESPN.com. Richardson "will have to produce right away because it's unlikely the Colts will wait for him to get going" if running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are healthy and productive, the website said.

Richardson likely will get the first shot at the starting job. He has a much better grasp of the playbook than he did in 2013 and the belief is he'll be able to run on instinct as opposed to overthinking, the report said.


Bruce Ellington trying to overcome stature
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(7/11/2014) At 5-foot-9, Bruce Ellington is the shortest receiver on the 49ers' roster. But the fourth-round pick out of South Carolina should not be discounted, his high school coach, Jerry Brown, told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown said Ellington is relentless at finding open space and catching everything thrown his way. "Football's played on a big field and it's hard to track someone like Bruce who's got so much agility," Brown said.

Ellington believes he has lots of room for growth because he only gave up basketball last year. Also a former track competitor, Ellington clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine.

"I'm just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream," he said.


Colts dump LaVon Brazill, sign Aaron Burks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The Colts waived suspended wideout LaVon Brazill and signed receiver Aaron Burks, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. Brazill, 25, is suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Burks caught 18 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch.


 
 
 
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