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Player Challenge strategies for Week 2

Senior Fantasy Writer
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This column is primarily designed to help strategize for our four-week Player Challenge games, but is essentially about great matchups and overlooked stats, offering deeper options for those in daily leagues.

Here's a fun fact: As frustrating as Titans running back Chris Johnson has been in Fantasy since his 2009 "2K" season, he's totaled at least 1,400 yards in each of his six seasons. In Week 1, he had the second-most carries (25) in the NFL. His 70 rushing yards were the 11th-most in the league. And while his seven total points barely had him in the top 24, he was facing a Steelers team that held opponents to the second-fewest rushing yards in the league last year, and probably didn't benefit from being the center of Pittsburgh's attention, as the Tennessee receiving corps is largely underwhelming.

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Johnson gets the Texans in Week 2 -- Houston had the seventh-best run defense last year and held the Chargers running backs to 60 rushing yards in Week 1 -- so this may not be the best week to start Johnson in the Challenge or daily games. But he has the Chargers lurking in Week 3, so his time may be coming

On to the Week 2 picks! I've split this column into my actual starts in the Player Challenge, and offered some deeper plays for readers who participate in daily leagues and may be bargain-hunting to fill out holes in the lineups.

Quarterback

You can't go wrong with Aaron Rodgers, who faces Washington in Week 2 -- a team that gave up the third-most passing yards in 2012. Rodgers is facing a bye in Week 4, so he's going to have an upcoming hole in these early Player Challenge weeks -- you might as well use him now in this favorable matchup.

Like the rest of the Fantasy-playing world, I'm also on board with starting Michael Vick for Week 2. The Chargers gave up the eighth-most rushing yards and seventh-most passing yards in the NFL in Week 1, and that was against the predictable Texans offense. With the lightning-fast Eagles still a relatively unknown quantity to opposing defenses, expect Vick to rack up a good amount of stats in both (running and passing) categories.

In that same game, Philip Rivers makes for an interesting deeper/budget pick in daily league formats. The Eagles gave up 308 passing yards in Week 1 to Washington and with their hurry-up offense, they could be on and off the field very quickly. That means Rivers will be out there a good amount. More Rivers = more passes = more stats. Huzzah!

Running Back

You can apply the Vick logic to his teammate, LeSean McCoy. I'm going to use the Eagles' skill players as much as I can early on (before the league catches on and figures out a way to stop the offense), and the Chargers are a favorable matchup, regardless.

Doug Martin faces off against the Saints in Week 2. In 2012, New Orleans gave up 147.6 rushing yards per game and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. While the Saints only yielded 88 rushing yards in Week 1 against the Falcons, those came on just 14 carries -- meaning they're giving up 6.3 yards per carry this season, a marked increase from their already-miserable run defense last year. Martin's a stud going against a porous run defense, so he gets the start in the second slot.

If you feel like going a little deeper with your backs, there's a case to be made for DeAngelo Williams, who faces the Bills in Week 2. Buffalo gave up 158 rushing yards in Week 1 (third-most in the league) and 145.8 rushing yards per game in 2012 (second-worst in the league). Williams managed a surprisingly decent 86 yards on 17 carries in Week 1 against a stout Seahawks defense and has little competition in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart out. Despite his random disappointments, Williams has a 4.9 ypc average for his career and could put up some nice numbers in Week 2.

Wide Receiver

Not to pick on the Saints, but they had a pretty bad defensive campaign in 2012 -- they gave up the second-most receiving yards in the NFL. And I consider Vincent Jackson an elite wideout. So having him go up against the Saints in Week 2 is an easy justification for a start. I'm not too worried about the Josh Freeman drama -- he torched the Saints last year for 699 passing yards in two games (although the first matchup was far better than the second).

Brandon Marshall faces the Vikings in Week 2, and not only did Minnesota give up the eighth-most receiving yards in 2012, they also tend to be something like a ball of yarn to Marshall's bored cat. In four career games against the Vikings, Marshall has averaged 109.3 yards (on about nine receptions), with two total touchdowns over those four games. He's gone over 90 yards three times against the Vikings, has two 100-plus yard games and is carrying momentum forward from a 104-yard performance in Week 1 against the Bengals.

A fun deeper play here is Hakeem Nicks. The Peyton Manning Kickoff Show overshadowed a really poor defensive performance by Denver. The Broncos allowed the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL in Week 1 -- and this was to a Ravens team that was starting a nearly retired tight end and a Dancing With the Stars champion. Nicks could put up some nice numbers against a Denver defense that, 1. May be without a hobbled Champ Bailey and, 2. Is already smarting from the Von Miller suspension and Elvis Dumervil defection.

Tight End

Over the course of the Player Challenge, you're only going to need four tight ends, and with the season so young and defensive weaknesses not really apparent yet, it's probably best to just go with what we know. So for this week, I'm starting Jimmy Graham. Tampa Bay was terrible against the pass last year, and while Darrelle Revis should address some of the problems, it will probably end up being Marques Colston who feels the effects. And this isn't just a wild guess here on Graham exploiting the Bucs -- Jets tight end Kellen Winslow had seven receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 1.

As far as a deeper tight end, Dallas Clark was targeted 12 times last week, but Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is a tight end guru and may be able to gameplan against him. Still, Baltimore liked to use the tight end last year and Clark quietly put together a nice season for the Bucs (423 yards, five touchdowns) in 2012.

DST

With the switch from Blaine Gabbert to Chad Henne at quarterback in Jacksonville, the Jaguars are no longer the start-your-DST-against-them-every-week creampuff that they were in the hours following their Week 1 loss. Over the last four seasons, Henne has nine games of 300-plus yards -- which is fairly impressive considering he's been painted as this second-stringer in pretty uninspiring offenses. So as bad as Jacksonville was last week -- and as surprisingly tenacious as Oakland's defense looked -- I'm not going to start the Raiders here.

There's a case to be made for the Seahawks, but I'm probably going to hold off for their Week 3 game against Jacksonville. Not to totally de-merit all those nice words about Henne, but you'll probably see more defensive points scored against the Jaguars than you will against the 49ers.

The Bengals are a nice play in Week 2 against a Steelers team that didn't look great last week. And while the Bears face a tough challenge in stopping Adrian Peterson, they should be able to handle the passing offense.

In deeper challenges, I'm starting the Panthers, who get Buffalo in Week 2. I like the Bills and think Doug Marrone is a great offensive mind. But I also think Carolina had a really stellar preseason and the team doesn't get enough credit for that. They led the NFL in preseason interceptions and defensive touchdowns and finished in the top six for sacks and forced fumbles.

Kicker

Instead of your usual, "just pick a guy!" strategy (because there really is no proven way to pinpoint top performers), I've decided to employ random celebrity/athlete/cool people cameos in this section to help select a kicker. Today's special guest: Mike Erwin, Chairman of Team RWB, an organization that aims to enrich the lives of America's veterans, "by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity." Mike (@ErwinRWB) and the organization (@TeamRWB) are definitely worth a follow on Twitter. Also, feel free to plunk down 20 bucks for one of these awesome T-shirts. Erwin ran 100 miles in 100 hours this summer to raise awareness for Team RWB. And now he's picking your Fantasy kicker.

Special Guest Mike Erwin's kicker pick for Week 2: Matt Prater, K, Broncos

There will be a new guest next week. Stay tuned. I think this is going to be a fun section all season long.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Patriots' Devin McCourty: There's a 'chance that I might not be back'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) With the Patriots deciding to use their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, safety Devin McCourty knows his time in New England could be coming to an end. 

In an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, McCourty said he didn't have much information on what the Patriots would do and was going off of various media reports that came down to the organization deciding whether to franchise him or Gostkowski. 

Now that Gostkowski is ineligible from hitting the free agent market, McCourty will test the waters beginning on March 10. 

"I guess it's more realistic now that [there's] a chance that I might not be back there," McCourty said. "Or there's still a chance that I will, but I guess [there's] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process."

In 2014, McCourty recorded 68 tackles and two interceptions. 


Report: Texans' Andre Johnson given permission to seek trade
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Wide receiver Andre Johnson has been given permission by the Texans to seek a trade, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle

The Texans told Johnson that he'd have a reduced role this upcoming season opposite of DeAndre Hopkins. Therefore, Johnson wanted out of his deal. If a trade cannot be made with a suitor, Johnson will be released

Johnson was the third overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft and is the greatest player in the history of the Texans. He's recorded 1,012 catches, 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns in his career.

A trade could be difficult, however, based on Johnson's upcoming $16.1 million cap figure and $10.5 million base salary for the 2015 season. 


Colts RB Vick Ballard (Achilles) 'on schedule' with recovery
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Running back Vick Ballard is poised to be back in the Colts' plans for the 2015 season. 

Ballard, who has missed almost all of the previous two seasons due to injuries, hasn't suffered any setbacks with his recovery, according to the Colts' official website. Ballard tore his ACL in 2013 and suffered an Achilles tear before the 2014 season. 

“Vick’s doing well. He’s going through rehab right now. He’s on schedule,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He’s been working his tail. When the doctors say he’s 100 percent and ready to roll, then we’ll get him back on the field.”

Ballard led the Colts in rushing as a rookie in 2012 with 814 yards and two touchdowns. He only played in one game in 2013 before tearing his ACL in a practice the following week. His Achilles tear came during the 2014 preseason. 


Report: Jaguars looking for help at RB this offseason
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) It appears Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart will have new role in 2015. 

According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the Jaguars are planning to move Gerhart around on offense at H-back in addition to running back. This also means the Jaguars will be in the market for additional help at running back. 

Gerhart was plagued by injuries in 2014, which paved the way for Denard Robinson to assert himself as a potential starting running back down the road. Robinson, however, is injury prone himself, which goes back to his days as a standout quarterback in college at Michigan.

Robinson's 2014 season ended on injured reserve with a mid-foot sprain.

Gerhart's season ended with just 326 yards and a patry 3.2 yards per carry average. Robinson emerged late in the year and ran for 582 yards and held a 4.3 yards per carry average.  


Report: Titans parting ways with safety Bernard Pollard
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Titans will release veteran safety Bernard Pollard, according to a report from The Tennessean

Pollard had previously requested for the Titans to release him. He's coming off a season that ended prematurely due to an Achilles tear in early October. He was slated to earn $3.5 million with the Titans this year if he stayed on. 

In the five games he appeared in during the 2014 season, Pollard recorded 27 tackles and one sack. 


Report: Browns looking to add another quarterback
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Browns are not done just yet in their search for quarterback talent, according to ESPN.com. Cleveland is reportedly looking to add at least one more quarterback through the draft or free agency.

The Browns made their signing of Josh McCown to a three-year deal official last week, but appear to want another to go along with him and Johnny Manziel.


Report: Redskins will pursue Ndamukong Suh as free agent
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) After the Lions chose not to use the franchise tag to retain DE Ndamukong Suh, it became more likely that he'll become an unrestricted free agent on March 10. 

When Suh hits the market, the Redskins will be interested in signing him, reported Dianna Marie Russini of DC's NBC 4, citing sources within the organization. 


Browns don't use franchise tag on Jordan Cameron
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Browns won't use their franchise tag on any player, meaning that TE Jordan Cameron will become a free agent on March 10. 

Cameron had 24 catches for 424 yards and two touchdowns last season, at a salary of $1.431 million.


No franchise tag for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Broncos will not use their franchise tag on TE Julius Thomas. The team instead tagged WR Demaryius Thomas. 

Julius Thomas will be able to become a free agent on March 10. He had 43 catches for 489 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Thomas made $645,000 salary last year. 


Report: Bills do not apply franchise tag to linebacker Jerry Hughes
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Bills reportedly chose not to apply their franchise tag to linebacker Jerry Hughes Monday, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

Buffalo has been working on signing Hughes to a new, long term deal for the past month. The veteran linebacker racked up 10 sacks and totaled 54 tackles in all 16 games in 2014 for the Bills. 


 
 
 
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