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Fantasy & Reality: Offensive observations

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It feels like we're right back to square one with Tom Brady and his receiving corps.

No Shane Vereen (wrist) for a long time, no Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) until maybe Week 3, presumably no Danny Amendola (groin) for at least one game and even Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) could find himself on the bench.

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It might only be for a week, but Brady is left with a near-empty cupboard. Available to throw to are rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and veterans Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman, who looked awesome in Week 1 but has a bad track record of foot injuries (he was in a walking boot as recently four months ago). The running back corps is down to veteran third-down back Leon Washington and a group of bigger backs not known for their receiving skills, including Stevan Ridley.

The Patriots have always been good at using what they have to stay competitive in games, and it's in that spirit that Ridley's Fantasy owners should keep calm and carry on even in the face of his benching for fumbling last week (the turnover led to a Bills touchdown). If the Patriots are going to lean on their playmakers then Ridley is going to get work, even after fumbling.

Ridley's been taken out of games before for fumbling but the punishment never lasted too long. In both 2012 games he lost fumbles in he came back the following week and had just about his normal slate of work -- 17 carries on average. The stats that came with them weren't great but game circumstances played a role in that.

Now the Patriots need him badly. A sensible person would bet Ridley starts and sees a lot of work against the Jets on Thursday now that the biggest threat to his touches -- Vereen -- is sidelined. Plus, with the game being on a short week and Ridley only getting nine touches before hitting the pine, one would argue he's the most rested Patriot starter. We'll get an idea of how the Pats will use their backs until Vereen comes back beginning this week.

What about Edelman, the waiver-wire darling following his two-score game at Buffalo? He's also worth starting in Fantasy. Of all the receivers left for Brady to throw to, he's the one he likely trusts the most. Edelman and Brady have been teammates since 2009 and have hooked up for touchdowns long before this past weekend. Edelman was even locked into a big role this past weekend -- he lined up for 47 plays with Amendola at Buffalo and was on the field for 31 snaps without Amendola including just four when Amendola left with a groin injury. Edelman's worth rolling with.

Thompkins is your other sure-fire receiver. He struggled in his debut but the targets say a lot: 14 total, including three deep pass attempts (20-plus yards) and two passes into the end zone. Those targets aren't going to go away if other key Patriots receiving threats are sidelined. This is a big week for Thompkins; a preseason's worth of playing time with Brady along with more snaps played in Week 1 than any other receiver (87) should give him enough work to finally flourish.

As for the matchup ahead, I wouldn't worry about the Jets pass rush rattling Brady or Antonio Cromartie lining up on a specific receiver all game long. The Jets flipped him from side to side last week and if that continues the Patriots will adjust by moving their receivers around. Brady himself threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Jets last year with at least 22 Fantasy points per game. He'll be fine.

Last point: The Patriots' next four games after Week 2 come against the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals and Saints. They'll need those offensive weapons back then or else their record will have some serious blemishes.

Chipping away at the Eagles

When I was younger, before a wife and kids, I spent a lot of my spare time playing Madden. And I was pretty darn good at it. One year I figured out how to consistently tear apart the All-Pro level by memorizing three separate audibles and calling one additional play, then running the no-huddle using just those four plays. I'd go undefeated en route to the Super Bowl in franchise mode just by out-hustling the defense game after game.

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I was reminded of this when I watched the fast break Eagles offense on Monday at the Redskins. The Eagles have ditched the huddle and use signals from the sideline in part to call in plays immediately after the last play has been run. The offense keeps the defense on its heels and uses simple philosophies to pick up gobs of yardage in a hurry. It's fun to watch.

But my video-game team is fictional. The Eagles are real. These guys can't be counted on to hold up week after week like this. LeSean McCoy had a personal-best 31 carries but needed attention from the trainers during the second half. Michael Vick totaled three touchdowns but was gimpy by the fourth quarter -- not the best news for a guy known for getting hurt. Again, this is the first game of the season.

And while the players might wear down, defenses will catch up with what Chip Kelly's doing. Just consider the two halves for the Eagles: They ran 51 plays in the first half, totaling 341 yards and 26 points. In the second half they ran just 23 plays, totaled 125 yards and scored seven points. The Redskins adjusted to the scheme by hitting Vick repeatedly and being more physical defensively while taking their time offensively -- Washington owned the clock by more than five minutes in the second half.

What it means to me is that the players involved are among the most high-risk, high-reward in Fantasy Football history. It'll be this way until Kelly makes some changes to limit his players' exposure to big hits. DeSean Jackson might be little but he is a good start so long as Vick is the one throwing to him. McCoy is a no-brainer No. 1 Fantasy running back but the second he gets worn down too much the offense is in trouble -- Bryce Brown had a weak camp and couldn't accelerate to the edge against the Redskins. Chris Polk isn't exactly a burner. And as for Vick ... I mean, use him so long as he is upright, but it's a game of hot potato. You just don't know which week he'll end up needing help getting up off the turf. And sorry, I can't see this offense being as electric with Nick Foles under center.

The good news is that not many people drafted Vick without taking another quarterback. That's the way it should be -- no one should carry Vick without another good option. The outlook for McCoy isn't nearly as simple because the handcuff for him isn't very good. I own McCoy in several leagues and am aiming to carry a number of capable runners from other teams for the possible moment when McCoy doesn't suit up for a game.

Thinking more short-term, the Eagles host the Chargers this week in what should be an outstanding matchup. The Bolts are making a cross-country trip fresh off a heartbreaking loss against the Texans -- Houston dominated them offensively.

This is a good week to reap the rewards of Kelly's offense but things get ugly in a hurry. The Eagles are at home on a short week against a very good Chiefs defense next Thursday before playing three straight on the road at Denver, at the Giants and at Tampa Bay. Then Dallas gets a crack at them. That's quite a gauntlet. I'm not in the injury predicting business but I'll be surprised if Vick's name doesn't start popping up on the injury report.

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 .

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Player News
Bengals will be cautious with A.J. Green
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(4:29 pm ET) The Bengals will be cautious with wideout A.J. Green, according to the NFL Network.

Green is dealing with a foot injury, and was unable to take part in the open portion of practice Thursday. Given how quickly Marvin Jones' foot issue went south, the club wants to be more cautious with Green. There's still a chance Green plays Week 8, but it will likely depend on him putting in some work on the practice field Friday. 


Cam Newton too hard to predict
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4:23 pm ET) In Week 8, the Panthers host the Seahawks, who have been a tough matchup for quarterbacks in recent years. Not so much this year, though. The Seahawks rank 16th against the pass, surrendering 239.0 yards per game, and have allowed the fifth-highest passer rating of any team this season. They've also given up the ninth-most Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.

So the matchup really isn't the concern for Cam Newton this week. Cam Newton himself is. After breaking out with 284 passing yards and 107 rushing yards Week 6 at Cincinnati, he had a chance to solidify his place in Fantasy in what figured to be a high-scoring affair Week 7 at Green Bay. But while he once again contributed as a rusher with seven carries for 41 yards -- another sign that his surgically repaired ankle is feeling better -- he wasn't productive enough throwing the ball to satisfy his Fantasy owners.

Of course, the Packers have allowed the lowest quarterback rating of any team this season, so maybe Newton is more the quarterback we saw two weeks ago than not. Unlike Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard, I'd have him in my top 12 for this week, but just barely. 


Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson unable to practice Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:20 pm ET) Saints running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) and running back Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) were held out of practice again Thursday. The Saints are preparing to play the Packers in Week 8.

Ravens not concerned about Owen Daniels
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) The Ravens don't seem concerned about Owen Daniels' status for Sunday, according to the Baltimore Sun

According to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Daniels is "fine." Kubiak noted that coach John Harbaugh has a plan for the team's veteran players. Daniels was held out of practice Thursday due to a knee issue. He was also held out Wednesday, but that was assumed to be a veteran's day of rest. 


Throw Doug Baldwin right in the fire
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4:06 pm ET) If you own Doug Baldwin in Fantasy, chances are you just added him in response to his 123-yard, touchdown-scoring performance at St. Louis in Week 7. Hey, with Percy Harvin following Golden Tate out the door and the Seahawks throwing the ball more than ever, somebody has be on the other end of Russell Wilson's passes.

But you may still be reluctant to start Baldwin Week 8 at Carolina just because ... well, it's not like Harvin was doing all that much for the Seahawks. Where was Baldwin before the trade?

Harvin may not have been giving the Seahawks much yardage, but a lot of the plays when he took the field were designed specifically for him. He had a decent number of targets and several carries as well. On average, it was probably about eight plays each week that are now going to someone else.

That's a significant number, especially since nobody new was added with his removal. And again, the Seahawks have been throwing the ball more and more in recent weeks with their defense showing signs of weakness.

The Panthers aren't so great against the pass, ranking 22nd of 32 teams, and have been especially bad against wide receivers, allowing the fourth-most Fantasy points per game to them. I say you run Baldwin out there right away.


Are we really doubting Russell Wilson still?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(3:52 pm ET) Coming off the best game of his life (at least from a statistical standpoint), Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is started in only 67 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues. Is that a problem to anyone else?

In case you haven't noticed, the Seahawks haven't been as dominant defensively this year, which has made Wilson's performance more critical to their success. The result is better numbers for the third-year passer. He's contributed at least two touchdowns in every game but one, and that one was sandwiched between two three-touchdown games, including Week 7.

In those three-touchdown games, Wilson also rushed for more than 100 yards, leading to some monster production that has made him the fifth-best quarterback in standard CBSSports.com leagues to date.

So he's consistent and has a high ceiling from week to week. So ... what's the deal, then? Certainly it's not the matchup steering you away from him in Week 8. The hosting Panthers have allowed the sixth-most Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season and rank 22nd against the pass, giving up 250.7 yards per game.


Jaguars coach: Robinson featured in Week 8 over Gerhart
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Gus Bradley has announced that Week 7 breakout back Denard Robinson will receive the bulk of the carries for the Jaguars in Week 8 against Miami, per the Florida Times-Union. Toby Gerhart, who returns from injury with a 2.6 YPC average, will serve as his backup.

The former Michigan quarterback exploded for 127 yards on 22 carries and added three receptions Sunday against Cleveland. It marked his first double-figure attempt day in the NFL.

Gerhart appears set to play after missing two games with a foot sprain.


Panthers expecting Byron Bell to play Week 8
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:35 pm ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday he anticipates offensive lineman Byron Bell playing Week 8 against the Seahawks. Bell was limited in practice Thursday for a second straight day due to an elbow injury.

Panthers' Rivera hopeful DeAngelo Williams will be back Week 9
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:31 pm ET) Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams did not practice Thursday due to a lingering ankle injury and it appears likely he will miss a fourth straight game Week 8 vs. Seattle. However, coach Ron Rivera said he is hopeful Williams will make his return to the lineup next Thursday (Week 9) against the Saints.

Ahmad Bradshaw more attractive than usual?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(3:29 pm ET) Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both really like Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw for Week 8 at Pittsburgh, ranking him among their top 12 at the position. And based strictly on performance, you can understand why. Bradshaw had his second two-touchdown game Week 7 against Cincinnati and has at least one touchdown in five of seven games this season.

But because he's the slightly lesser half (in terms of playing time) of a backfield platoon with Trent Richardson, I always worry about his lack of touches. He's been the sixth-best running back in standard CBSSports.com leagues to date, so maybe those worries are unfounded. But what can I say? I'm a worrier.

I'm fully on board with him this week, though. It's not so much about the matchup, though the Steelers rank only 17th against the run, allowing 114.1 yards per game. It's more about Richardson's health. On his way to a season-best 118 yards from scrimmage, Richardson also hurt his hamstring in Week 7. And though he was expected back at practice Thursday, it's not so unreasonable to think he'll be the lesser half of the platoon even if he's cleared to play in Week 8.

And more touches can only be a good thing for Bradshaw, right?


 
 
 
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