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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 .

Get player news notifications, manage your team and check scores
- all updated in real time. Download the CBS Fantasy App.

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Player News
Packers OLB Julius Peppers sent home from OTA's with illness
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers was absent from organized team activities on Thursday, per Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Peppers was sent home because of an apparent illness before practice started for the day.


Healthy QB Tony Romo providing optimism for Cowboys
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) A Tony Romo ahead of the game is a rather scary thought for NFL defenses. But such is the case for the Cowboys quarterback, who for the first time in three years is healthy at this point in the offseason.

In 2013, he was recovering from the removal of cyst. Last year he was battling back from a discectomy. But he's fine now and is performing quite well.

"It's been great," Romo told ESPN. "I think just to be able to kind of have an offseason. You're always rehabbing, but at the same time, I'm kind of able to build during this offseason. It's exciting really."

It's more exciting considering he is coming off his finest year, which featured a league-best completion percentage (69.9) and passer rating (113.2) with 34 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.

In training camp he never practiced more than two straight days, then sat out every Wednesday during the regular season. It remains to be seen if a healthy offseason translates into even better production for the 35-year-old Romo in 2015. The team will be careful in regard to his health.

"Tony's obviously further along," Jason Garrett said. "He didn't have an offseason surgery, so he was able to get a lot more things in our offseason program up to this point. ... You want to make sure you monitor him. ... He's handled everything we've asked him to do to this point really well."


WR Mike Wallace optimistic about fit in Vikings offense
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:38 pm ET) Vikings burner Mike Wallace has been in search of an offense that best fits his skill set since leaving Pittsburgh. He believes he has found one.

Wallace was stuck in a West Coast system in Miami, which resulted in two seasons with weaker numbers than he produced in his heyday with the Steelers. His 12.8 yards-per-catch average with the Dolphins was a far cry from the 17.2 he achieved previously. He caught 12 passes of 20-plus yards in Miami after snagging 44 in four years with Pittsburgh.

For a receiver that was clocked at 4.33 in the 40 in 2009, those statistics in Miami are unworthy of his speed. He is seeking a quarterback that can fire the ball downfield and will be given the freedom to do so. He is hoping it's Teddy Bridgewater. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is vowing to cut the offense loose, which pleases Wallace.

"I think it's more so [like] my first four years, he told ESPN. "It's a vertical offense, [rather] than a short, West Coast offense. You go down the field a lot more here, more what I'm accustomed to."


Cowboys DE Greg Hardy appeals 10-game suspension
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:29 pm ET) Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and his representatives made an appearance in Washington D.C. this morning to argue in favor of reducing or overturning his 10-game suspension, per The Dallas Morning News.

Dallas, which doesn't play any role in the appeal process, is supporting its player from a far.

“No real comment beyond just supporting him,’’ head coach Jason Garrett said. “This is part of the process that he’s going to go through in appealing this suspension. He and his representatives will handle it as well as they can and we’ll see what happens.

“The biggest thing is to handle it the right way. We’re going to try to handle it the right way as an organization and we expect him to handle it the right way as an individual player."

A judge found Hardy guilty of domestic violence in July of 2014 and sentenced him to 18 months probation after suspending a 60-day jail sentence. 

Hardy and his reps will argue that he was found not guilty in the eyes of the law, and that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's punishment -- 10-game suspension -- was excessive compared to what was outlined in the personal conduct policy -- two-game suspension -- at the time of the incident involving his former girlfriend.

The NFL's investigation at the time concluded that Hardy's actions "constitutes a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.”


Expectations rising for Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) After a breakout 2014 season, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is looking to build on his success. 

Kelce caught 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and figures to be even more of an integral part of Kansas City's offense. 

As a result, Kelce wants to raise the bar and set a higher standard for his personal output this season. 

“Nobody puts more expectation on me than myself," Kelce said, via ESPN.com. “That’s just the heart of the competitor. That’s how I was raised. My father taught me that you can buy a man’s back, but you can’t buy his heart. With that being said, I come out here and make sure I put all my effort and focus into being the best player I can be."


Cowboys experiment with Jeremy Mincey at defensive tackle
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:53 am ET) The Cowboys can experiment with their defensive line because they have such an abundance of talent.

On Wednesday, the team tweaked defensive end Jeremy Mincey's role when they moved him in to play defensive tackle, per The Dallas Morning News.

The Cowboys added Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory to bolster the defensive line this offseason. With the newly-added depth, the team is trying out new looks to determine what works best.

“We were working a bunch of different combinations [Wednesday], which was great,” Mincey said. “Randy Gregory is coming along. Really solid pass rusher. They had me and Mr. Kraken (Hardy) here working together. You know what I mean? A lot of good, man. We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of players you can trust. I think we’ll make some impactful plays for the Cowboys.”

Mincey led the team with six sacks last year.


Report: Ravens to sign veteran CB Cassius Vaughn
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(11:41 am ET) The Ravens have agreed to terms on a contract with cornerback Cassius Vaughn , according to The Baltimore Sun

Vaughn is being signed to a veteran minimum deal. 

This appears to be a move to add depth to a position that was depleted with injuries a year ago. The Ravens recently signed Kyle Arrington to the secondary as well. 

With the Lions in 2014, Vaughn started five of the 13 games he appeared in and intercepted two passes. 


Bucs sign K Brandon Bogotay, waive C Ben Gottschalk
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:38 am ET) The Buccaneers were busy during the third day of organized team activities.

The team announced it has signed kicker Brandon Bogotay and waived center Ben Gottschalk.

Bogotay was a tryout player at rookie minicamp and previously a member of the Browns' practice squad. Gottschalk was with the Chiefs' practice squad last season.


Lions DT Haloti Ngata wants to fill void left by Suh, Fairley
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:28 am ET) There isn't much Haloti Ngata has to prove on the football field. He's a five-time Pro Bowler and is widely considered one of the best defensive players in the game.

The 31-year-old, though, wants to prove he can fill the void left by the departure of former Lions players Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, per The Detroit Free Press.

"You definitely miss (Ndamukong) Suh and (Nick) Fairley, but I'm here to try to ease that a little bit," he said. "The guys that have been here are kind of showing the younger guys what it's been about here. I think they're doing a great job and hopefully once I catch on I can continue to push the younger guys along and get some wins."

Ngata, who is in the last year of his current contract, is embracing the different schemes he's been involved in. He's being asked to do a number of different things he didn't do for the last nine seasons as a member of the Ravens.

"I love it," Ngata said. "Just the defense that (Teryl Austin is) running here, it's awesome. It's a change for me. A lot of the attack, penetrate, aggressive defense, it's awesome. I still got to get used to it, but so far I'm loving it."

Ngata recorded 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 12 games last season.


Falcons' Robert Alford ready to expand his game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:06 am ET) Falcons cornerback Robert Alford knows that in order to continue to play at a high level he has to keep expanding his game, per ESPN.com.

Alford wants to be ready if his coaches approach him and ask for the 26-year-old to move down to the slot and play more in a nickleback role.

"I'd love to play outside and nickel," Alford said. "I told the coaches I'd love to play both. Wherever they need me, I'm willing to play. As long as I'm on the field being able to compete and show my talent, I feel good."

Alford recorded 31 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games last season.


 
 
 
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