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CBSSports.com Playoff Challenge preview

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The regular season might be over, but the Fantasy fun doesn't have to stop. You can still keep those competitive Fantasy juices going in our Playoff Challenge (click here to learn more).

It's a simple game, really, that's fun for everyone, especially if you love Fantasy Football. You get 300 units to set your lineup, which consists of eight players (QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, K and DST). You are allowed eight moves throughout the playoffs, and the scoring is standard.

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The goal is to choose players who will play in as many games as possible through the four rounds of the playoffs: Wild Card, Divisional, Conference and Super Bowl. The key is making as few moves as possible to save transactions for the end.

The fun of setting your lineup is trying to figure out who will advance in each round, ultimately choosing a Super Bowl winner. The key to winning in this game is not just being a good Fantasy owner, but you also have to be knowledgeable in picking games. And you have to be a little lucky.

You want to choose teams with the chance to play four games to maximize points, and since 2000 there have been eight different teams -- Giants (2011), Packers (2010), Cardinals (2008), Giants (2007), Colts (2006), Steelers (2005), Panthers (2003) and Ravens (2000) -- to play in the Wild Card round and reach the Super Bowl. Six of those teams actually won it all with the Giants twice, Packers, Colts, Steelers and Ravens.

Last year, for example, if you had Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks you had a pretty good chance of winning as they dominated the postseason. Who will do that this year?

My Wild Card lineup is as follows:

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- 82 units
Running back: Arian Foster, Texans -- 68 units
Running back: DuJuan Harris, Packers -- 7 units
Wide receiver: Greg Jennings, Packers -- 39 units
Wide receiver: Torrey Smith, Ravens -- 36 units
Tight end: Jermaine Gresham, Bengals -- 17 units
Kicker: Kai Forbath, Redskins -- 17 units
DST: Ravens -- 30 units

The total is 296 units, and I'm counting on Green Bay beating Minnesota, which is why I went with three Packers. Rodgers is a must at quarterback because Green Bay could easily make it to the Super Bowl from the Wild Card round, and he should have plenty of success. He is getting hot at the right time with 11 total touchdowns in his past three games with no interceptions and an average of 333 passing yards over that span.

I went with Jennings as the Packers receiver of choice even though Randall Cobb (44 units), Jordy Nelson (41) and James Jones (40) are within the same range. Jennings, as you know, just scored twice against Minnesota in Week 17. He was also targeted a team-high 12 times and now has seven touchdowns in his past five meetings with the Vikings. Cobb also is dealing with injuries to his ankle and knee.

At running back, Harris is the No. 2 choice for two reasons: cost and effectiveness. He is the best buy at seven units, especially since he has at least eight Fantasy points in three of his past four games, including 14 carries for 70 yards and two catches for 17 yards against the Vikings in Week 17. The Packers don't have a true running back, but he's worth the gamble based on his price.

I also expect the Ravens to beat the Colts, which is why I went with Smith and the Ravens DST. Smith has seven touchdowns at home this year, and No. 1 receivers have done serious damage against the Colts with 12 reaching double digits in Fantasy points. The Colts have also allowed four of the past seven DST options to reach at least 12 Fantasy points, and the Ravens should get linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) back.

I'm torn on the Bengals-Texans and Seahawks-Redskins. I went with Foster at running back because even in one game he should do well. He scored double digits in Fantasy points in all but one game this year with 17 total touchdowns. Last year against the Bengals in the Wild Card round -- with T.J. Yates at quarterback -- he had 24 carries for 153 yards and two touchdowns and three catches for 29 yards. And Gresham, despite his recent struggles, is facing a Texans defense that has allowed five touchdowns to tight ends in the past four games.

Forbath was my kicker because of cost at 17 units, and I took him at home with the chance the Redskins keep their seven-game winning streak alive. He also has at least eight Fantasy points in three of his past four games.

We'll continue to update you on the Playoff Challenge each week and also look players who are improving their Fantasy value for 2013 with strong postseason performances. Like we said, just because the regular season is over doesn't mean the Fantasy fun should stop.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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- all updated in real time. Download the CBS Fantasy App.

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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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