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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
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.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


 
 
 
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