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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
Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


Browns' Josh McCown not bothered by 'game manager' label
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Browns quarterback Josh McCown brushes off the negative connotation around phrases like "game manager" and "building around the quarterback," per the team's website.

"That stuff doesn't bother me," McCown said after Tuesday’s OTA. "We're trying to win a championship. You can call it what you want to call it. I just want to win football games. That's my main focus. I understand who I am and how I want to go about winning football games. That's the key for us."

Coach Mike Pettine understands why McCown was attracted to Cleveland as a potential landing spot this offseason.

"I think he sees that as potentially a way to win football games," Pettine said. "I think virtually any quarterback in the league, if we said, ‘Hey, we want to get you in second-and-5 and not second-and-11. We want to get you in third-and-2 and not third-and-8,’ I think they’d all be appreciative of that."

McCown also had praise for his new offensive line after getting to work with the unit.

"I knew they were physically good, you see it on tape, but these guys are so smart," McCown said. "It's rare to get a group of five guys that can really see the field the way they do. I've said this all along, they were a big reason why I wanted to come here. After being with them now the last five or six weeks, had I known it was this good, I might not have even had to take a visit (before signing). They're really sharp. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them."


Jaguars' Denard Robinson ready for second try as kick returner
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:33 pm ET) Jaguars running back Denard Robinson is getting a shot at being the team's kick returner this offseason, a role he hasn't performed since early in his rookie season, but he's ready for the challenge, ESPN.com reports.

"Anything they ask me to do, I’m doing," Robinson said. "Now I feel more comfortable [returning kicks] than I was my rookie year."

General manager David Caldwell has said that while Robinson will get work returning kicks, he'd still have a significant role on offense. The running back hasn't dwelled on the comment.

"You just go out there and do yourself," Robinson said. "Do your thing and have fun and get better every day."

Robinson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 135 rushes last season while racking up 582 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Jaguars are expected to use rookie T.J. Yeldon as their primary runner in 2015.


Jaguars' Toby Gerhart feels for first time since last September
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart is expected to fill an H-back role after the team selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round, but he's worried less about his role and focusing on the fact that he's back to full health, ESPN.com reports.

"It’s feeling good," Gerhart said of the ankle that bothered him all of last season. "I feel healthy for the first time since last September. Feeling good and excited to go out there and be healthy and fresh this spring and show what I can do and compete."

Gerhart's new role will open him up to be a bigger part of the passing game.

"I’m learning the F [H-back] and running some of that and also taking just as many reps at tailback and competing and just trying to be the best I can be and see what happens," Gerhart said. "A lot of it so far has been a lot of routes and stuff like that, not so much iso downhill, more get me out in the flat, get me in pass pro and get out. It’s exciting to move around and we’ll see what happens."

Gerhart averaged just 3.2 yards on 101 carries last season while scoring two touchdowns. His average of 9.3 yards per reception represented a season high.


Eagles' Walter Thurmond moves to safety
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:20 pm ET) The Eagles have made a lot of moves to improve their defense this offseason, one of which was to bring Walter Thurmond aboard.

Most thought he would play cornerback, but Chip Kelly announced Thursday that Thurmond has moved to safety, per nj.com.

Thurmond said the coaching staff approached him about the idea some time ago, giving him the option to compete at either position. 

"It was a couple weeks ago, just after the draft, they asked me how I would feel about moving to safety,'' Thurmond said. "They said I could stay and compete at corner, or I could move to safety and compete there. After drafting three corners, even though some of them might be safeties, they thought it would be better for me at safety. I'm good with it. I just want to play."

The move is intriguing given that Thurmond has never played a game at the safety position, but he isn't concerned too much about that.

"I've played it in practice, but never in a game,'' Thurmond said. "In this defense, though, it's not much different than playing in the nickel.''


Buccaneers DE Jacquies Smith opens OTAs on first team
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith was part of the first-team defense in Thursday's open OTA practice, the first of the offseason, per the team's website.

Smith and George Johnson were the bookends on the defensive line, surrounding Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald. Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah were the two linebackers in the nickel set, with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks at corner and Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety. Sterling Moore and Isaiah Frey each played nickel.

Smith was a castoff by Buffalo early last season but developed into a rotational end with the Buccaneers, racking up 6 1/2 sacks.


 
 
 
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