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Playoff Extra: Championship Round Rankings

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There are plenty of great storylines for the AFC and NFC Championship Games -- and plenty of points to be had for Fantasy owners. It should make for another fun day of playoff action.

In the AFC, Tom Brady is trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the sixth time. He will have to get by the Ravens without tight end Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm), and standing in his way is linebacker Ray Lewis, who will retire once Baltimore is eliminated.

In the NFC, San Francisco travels to Atlanta, and the Falcons just won their first playoff game in the Matt Ryan era. 49ers second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is making his first road playoff start, and we'll find out how he does under pressure.

There's a lot of potential for high-scoring games in the Championship Round since the four games in the Divisional Round averaged 69 points. And as we know, the more points the better for Fantasy owners who are still alive in any Playoff Challenge.

Editor's note: The units listed after each player's name is the value assigned to each player in the CBSSports.com Playoff Challenge.

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Quarterbacks

1. Tom Brady, Patriots -- 81 units
2. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers -- 62 units
3. Matt Ryan, Falcons -- 74 units
4. Joe Flacco, Ravens -- 61 units

The last time Brady faced the Ravens in Week 3 he had 335 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. In the AFC Championship Game last year, Brady was held to 239 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions with a rushing score. Baltimore has only allowed two quarterbacks to score more than 15 Fantasy points since Week 10, which was Robert Griffin III (27 points) in Week 14 and Peyton Manning (23 points) last week. Still, we have faith in Brady in a big game at home. ... Kaepernick also has a tough matchup on the road. The Falcons have only allowed three quarterbacks to top 20 Fantasy points this year, which was Cam Newton twice, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson last week. Kaepernick is coming off a monster outing against the Packers with 263 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception and 16 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He could easily have a similar game to Wilson, who had 385 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception and seven carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons focused on stopping Marshawn Lynch, and Wilson carried the offense to a near upset. Kaepernick would benefit greatly if Falcons defensive end John Abraham (ankle) was out. ... Ryan played well against the Seahawks with 250 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions and now has at least 23 Fantasy points in four of his past five outings. The 49ers have struggled of late with three of their past four opposing quarterbacks scoring at least 22 Fantasy points, and Ryan should be able to make plays down the field to Roddy White and Julio Jones. ... Flacco is playing great with 613 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two playoff victories. He has at least 18 Fantasy points in seven of his past 10 games. More importantly, he has nine touchdowns, one interception and at least 250 passing yards in the four full games he played with Jim Caldwell as the offensive coordinator. He also has a good history against the Patriots. In Week 3 of this year, Flacco had 382 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception. And in the AFC Championship Game last year he had 306 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception and 27 rushing yards. All four of these quarterbacks have the chance for stellar stat lines.

Running Backs

1. Frank Gore, 49ers -- 59 units
2. Ray Rice, Ravens -- 65 units
3. Stevan Ridley, Patriots -- 63 units
4. Shane Vereen, Patriots -- 24 units
5. Michael Turner, Falcons -- 54 units
6. Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons -- 41 units
7. Danny Woodhead, Patriots -- 35 units
8. Bernard Pierce, Ravens -- 24 units
9. LaMichael James, 49ers -- 9 units
10. Vonta Leach, Ravens -- 4 units
11. Anthony Dixon, 49ers -- 3 units
12. Jason Snelling, Falcons -- 10 units

Gore ran over the Packers last week with 23 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 48 yards. He now has double digits in Fantasy points in seven of his past eight games. Atlanta, despite trying to limit Lynch, still allowed him to get 13 Fantasy points, and the Falcons have allowed a running back to score in eight of their past nine games. ... Rice re-established himself last week at Denver with Pierce dealing with a knee injury. He had 30 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown, and he should be ready for his rematch with the Patriots. In Week 3, Rice had 20 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown and five catches for 49 yards, and he's capable of a repeat performance. Since Week 12, the Patriots have allowed five opposing running backs to reach double digits in Fantasy points, including Arian Foster in the Divisional Round last week. Pierce is expected to play, but his snaps could be limited with the Ravens likely leaning on Rice. ... The Ridley-Vereen combination is intriguing because how you view the game will determine who you think will do well, including Woodhead if he's healthy enough to play with a thumb injury. If the Patriots go ahead early in the game then Ridley has the chance to kill the clock. He struggled against the Ravens in Week 3 with 13 carries for 37 yards, but he has double digits in Fantasy points in five of his past seven games, including the playoff victory against the Texans last week. But if the Patriots trail at all then Vereen/Woodhead will see increased time, and we expect Vereen to get more playing time after he scored three touchdowns against the Texans. The Ravens have allowed four of their past six opposing running backs to reach double digits in Fantasy points, including Ronnie Hillman last week. ... Turner and Rodgers came up big for the Falcons in their playoff victory against the Seahawks. Turner had 14 carries for 98 yards, and Rodgers had 10 carries for 64 yards. They could have some running room since San Francisco has been vulnerable to opposing running backs of late with Woodhead, Lynch and DuJuan Harris all reaching double digits in Fantasy points against the 49ers in three of their past four games. Turner also has a touchdown in seven of nine games at home this year, including the playoffs.

Wide Receivers

1. Wes Welker, Patriots -- 48 units
2. Roddy White, Falcons -- 46 units
3. Michael Crabtree, 49ers -- 37 units
4. Julio Jones, Falcons -- 45 units
5. Torrey Smith, Ravens -- 36 units
6. Anquan Boldin, Ravens -- 29 units
7. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots -- 39 units
8. Jacoby Jones, Ravens -- 9 units
9. Randy Moss, 49ers -- 23 units
10. Harry Douglas, Falcons -- 5 units
11. Deion Branch, Patriots -- 10 units
12. Tandon Doss, Ravens -- 1 unit

Welker is coming off a dominant game against the Texans last week with eight catches for 131 yards. It was the eighth time this season he caught at least eight passes, and he reached double digits in Fantasy points for the ninth time. In Week 3 at Baltimore, Welker had eight catches for 142 yards on 10 targets, and he has registered double digits in targets 12 times this season. He should again remain involved with Gronkowski out. The Ravens have allowed a receiver to score or gain 100 yards in each of their past six games. ... Lloyd will also benefit with Gronkowski out. He had five catches for 32 yards and a touchdown against the Texans last week, and he did well against Baltimore in Week 3 with nine catches for 108 yards on 12 targets. The first time Gronkowski was out, Lloyd did well for two games against Houston in Week 14 and San Francisco in Week 15 with 16 catches for 252 yards on 28 targets. He is a nice sleeper this week. ... The way Crabtree has closed the season has been remarkable. He had nine catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers last week, which gives him three games with multiple scores in his past four outings. He ended the season with at least nine Fantasy points in eight of his past 10 games, including the playoffs. And Atlanta has allowed a receiver to reach double digits in Fantasy points in each of the past three games. ... White and Jones both played well last week against the Seahawks. White had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, while Jones had six catches for 59 yards. The reason we like White better is his production at home. He has double digits in Fantasy points in six of nine home games this season. Jones, meanwhile, has reached double digits in Fantasy points at home in just two games. Still, both have the chance to play well since the 49ers have allowed at least one receiver to reach double digits in Fantasy points in each of their past four games. ... The last time Smith faced the Patriots in Week 3 it was an emotional game for him following the death of his brother. He had a tremendous outing with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 10 targets. He had another two-touchdown game against the Broncos last week, and the Patriots have struggled with receivers all year, including six receivers scoring at least nine Fantasy points in the past five games. That bodes well for Boldin also, and he has been playing well of late. He has at least seven Fantasy points in five of his past six games, and he has 18 targets through two playoff games.

Tight Ends

1. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots -- 37 units
2. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons -- 39 units
3. Dennis Pitta, Ravens -- 32 units
4. Delanie Walker, 49ers -- 16 units
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers -- 15 units
6. Ed Dickson, Ravens -- 4 units

Hernandez missed the first meeting against Baltimore in Week 3 with an ankle injury, but he had seven catches for 66 yards in the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens last year. He is coming off a solid outing against the Texans last week with six catches for 85 yards on nine targets, and we expect Brady to rely on him once again with Gronkowski out. This is a tough matchup since Baltimore has allowed just one tight end to reach double digits in Fantasy points since Week 7, but Hernandez still has the chance to shine. ... Gonzalez finally won the first playoff game in his 16-year career, and he played a prominent role with six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks. He's trying to reach his first Super Bowl, and he could have some success against a 49ers defense that has allowed eight touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year. ... Pitta was held in check by the Broncos last week with just three catches for 55 yards, but he could rebound in this matchup. The Patriots just allowed Owen Daniels to catch nine passes for 81 yards, and eight tight ends have scored against New England this season. Dickerson should only be used in a desperation situation. ... Once again we'll stick with Walker over Davis. Both were disappointing against the Packers last week, with Walker catching one pass for 17 yards and Davis catching one pass for 44 yards. Going back to Week 12, Walker has 35 Fantasy points compared to eight for Davis. The good thing for both is the Falcons just got abused by Zach Miller for eight catches, 142 yards and one touchdown.

Kickers

1. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots -- 32 units
2. Matt Bryant, Falcons -- 30 units
3. David Akers, 49ers -- 30 units
4. Justin Tucker, Ravens -- 27 units

Defense/Special Teams

1. 49ers -- 37 units
2. Ravens -- 30 units
3. Patriots -- 35 units
4. Falcons -- 30 units

My Championship Round lineup

QB: Colin Kaepernick, 49ers -- 62 units
RB: Frank Gore, 49ers -- 59 units
RB: Shane Vereen, Patriots -- 24 units
WR: Wes Welker, Patriots -- 48 units
WR: Michael Crabtree, 49ers -- 37 units
TE: Delanie Walker, 49ers -- 16 units
K: Kai Forbath, Redskins -- 17 units
DST: Ravens -- 30 units

If only I didn't make any moves last week I would have been in good shape. My Wild Card lineup had Foster at running back and Smith at receiver. I replaced both, going with Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker, respectively, which completely backfired. Now, I'm down to five transactions, and I had to replace Aaron Rodgers, Moreno, Harris, Greg Jennings and Decker while sticking with no kicker and the Ravens DST, which I had from the beginning. I'm going all in on the 49ers and Patriots making it to the Super Bowl, and based on value, Kaepernick, Gore, Vereen, Welker and Crabtree make the most sense. I put Walker in last week, and hopefully he will play better this week against the Falcons.

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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Player News
Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:02 am ET) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:48 am ET) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


Patriots' Tom Brady on Deflategate: 'My feelings got hurt'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:33 am ET) If you have been out of the loop for the last week, then you might be unaware the Patriots have been under a lot of scrutiny since the AFC title game due to improperly inflated footballs used against the Colts. The media hoopla has transformed the controversy into what we know as Deflategate.

If you haven't been out of the loop, then you are well aware of the nonstop coverage it has received the last week and despite the Patriots pleas for it to go away, it just won't.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had to deal with the backlash from Deflategate, and he found himself talking about the subject again Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

One topic Brady didn't have a problem addressing was the speculation coach Bill Belichick threw him under the bus during a press conference on Thursday. But Brady came to the defense of Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls as the Patriots coach.

“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for; he’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation."


Giants' Odell Beckham says he played with hamstring tears
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said he played all season with two tears in his hamstrings, according to the New York Daily News.

Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Patriots' Tom Brady meeting with NFL after Super Bowl 49
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl XLIX, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to Deflategate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the league finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


Colts expected to part ways with center A.Q. Shipley
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts center A.Q. Shipley is headed for unrestricted free agency, and the team is expected to let him go, reports ESPN.com. 

"Shipley went from starting in Week 1 to losing his starting job, to being inactive, to being the third-string center," the report said. "All without any explanation from coach Chuck Pagano or anybody in the front office."

Shipley, 28, has played in 45 career games, starting 19.


Report: Dolphins aim to re-sign TE Charles Clay
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Dolphins have privately indicated they want to re-sign impending free agent tight end Charles Clay and will make him an offer in coming weeks, reports the Miami Herald. Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season.

Miami also is high on Clay's backup, Dion Sims, who's signed through 2016, the paper said.


 
 
 
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