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Fantasy & Reality: The Thursday night riddle

Senior Fantasy Writer
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While it's awesome to have a football game early every week, Thursday nights remain a mystery to Fantasy Football owners.

Through two weeks already this season we've seen the Patriots squeak by the Jets (most would have expected the Pats to beat them soundly) and the Eagles get roasted by the Chiefs (most would have expected the Eagles to put up more of a fight). Already, Thursday night games are on par from last year's editions in terms of let-down performances and a lack of scoring. Just look at Tom Brady (13) in Week 2 and Michael Vick (17) last Thursday night. The receivers in these first two Thursday nighters have also been busts (outside of Jason Avant).

The Thursday games aren't just hard on Fantasy owners. Coaches have a hard time with them, too.

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"Honestly, I feel particularly as the season goes on, it's hard. It's hard to recover," former Steelers head coach and current The NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher told me this week. "You try to do a little bit of preparation in training camp because you're already cut down on how much time you have to meet with the players (the week of the game). We used to do that for Thanksgiving so we'd have a little bit of an idea of what we wanted to do."

Getting ready to play football in four days is a tough chore, and the results of which have proven to be perplexing. Take any angle to any game and chances are you'd be surprised with the results. Only nine teams in 2012 scored 30-plus points (five on Thanksgiving) while 11 teams scored 14 or fewer. Home teams were 8-8. Teams coming off a win went 9-9 while teams coming off a loss were 7-7. Teams coming off a home game were 11-14. Teams coming off a road game -- explain this one -- were 5-2.

And if that doesn't stun you, this will: You'd think teams would be uber-prepared for their contest following their Thursday game considering a 10-day layoff. Well, teams went 15-17 the following week after a Thursday night game.

Of course these numbers are in a vacuum and don't specifically preach to a Fantasy audience. But this one does: On Thursdays in 2012 only six quarterbacks had 20-plus Fantasy points, 23 running backs had 10-plus points (11 had 15-plus points), 24 receivers had 10-plus Fantasy points (just seven had 15-plus points) and four tight ends had 10-plus Fantasy points. When you consider these numbers came over 16 games, they're disappointing across the board, save for the running backs.

This makes sense. On a short week it's probably harder for non-cornerback defenders to recover from the clang-and-bang they took on just four days prior. Offensive linemen probably have similar troubles, but running backs don't. There's maybe one practice, two walk-thrus and plenty of time for a running back to heal up. They're fresher. Additionally, the playbook knowledge a running back has to have is inherently smaller than quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends. Their assignments aren't as complicated. Pretty much every stud running back from 2012 shined in their Thursday game, especially those who played late in the year. Of the 22 rushers who produced 10 or more Fantasy points in 2012, 14 came in the final seven weeks of the Thursday slate (nine games).

Already this season three of the four starting running backs that have played on a short week's rest have posted at least 12 Fantasy points. To be fair, two of them were Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. But Bilal Powell's 12-point game is nothing to sneeze at. Capable running backs deserve automatic Fantasy consideration on Thursdays.

The other positions just haven't measured up. Quarterbacks have to intimately learn the tendencies of their opponents. Receivers have to size up the defensive backs. Tight ends, who also probably take on more punishment physically than other players, also have to get to know opposing linebackers and safeties. These guys are all professionals but it's a tall order to have an in-depth knowledge of an opponent with less than 100 hours of prep time to work with.

In turn, the Fantasy spin is simple: Don't use a non-running back playing on Thursday unless it's a slam-dunk -- not even a slam-dunk matchup is enough to justify a non-obvious player. As podcast and video host Adam Aizer says, "When in doubt, Thursday's out!"

Game Top QB Top RB Top WR Top TE
Bears 10 J. Cutler (4) M. Forte (7) B. Marshall (2) K. Davis (8)
Packers 23 A. Rodgers (12) C. Benson (11) J. Nelson (8) T. Crabtree (8)
Giants 36 E. Manning (17) A. Brown (24) R. Barden (13) M. Bennett (13)
Panthers 7 C. Newton (9) D. Williams (7) S. Smith (8) G. Olsen (9)
Browns 16 B. Weeden (10) T. Richardson (15) G. Little (7) B. Watson (5)
Ravens 23 J. Flacco (24) R. Rice (8) T. Smith (15)* D. Pitta (0)
Cardinals 3 K. Kolb (9) R. Williams (3) L. Fitzgerald (9) R. Housler (4)
Rams 17 S. Bradford (15) S. Jackson (7) C. Givens (11) L. Kendricks (6)
Steelers 23 Roethlisberger (19) I. Redman (11) M. Wallace (15) H. Miller (6)
Titans 26 Hasselbeck (15) C. Johnson (11) K. Britt (12) J. Cook (5)
Seahawks 6 R. Wilson (3) M. Lynch (11) B. Obomanu (5) Z. Miller (0)
49ers 13 A. Smith (10) F. Gore (18) M. Crabtree (3) D. Walker (7)
Buccaneers 36 J. Freeman (28) D. Martin (32) M. Williams (12) D. Clark (4)
Vikings 17 C. Ponder (15) A. Peterson (16) P. Harvin (15) K. Rudolph (1)
Chiefs 13 M. Cassel (6) J. Charles (5) D. Bowe (7) S. Maneri (0)
Chargers 31 P. Rivers (18) R. Mathews (6) M. Floyd (10) A. Gates (10)
Colts 21 A. Luck (18) V. Ballard (5) R. Wayne (9) D. Allen (3)
Jaguars 10 C. Henne (8) R. Jennings (2) C. Shorts (16) M. Lewis (3)
Dolphins 14 R. Tannehill (7) R. Bush (3) D. Bess (11) A. Fasano (0)
Bills 19 R. Fitzpatrick (7) C. Spiller (12) S. Johnson (7) S. Chandler (3)
Texans 34 M. Schaub (16) A. Foster (23)* A. Johnson (18). O. Daniels (8)
Lions 31 M. Stafford (29) M. Leshoure (11)* C. Johnson (20)* B. Pettigrew (7)
Redskins 38 R. Griffin III (36) A. Morris (17) P. Garcon (14)* N. Paul (8)
Cowboys 31 T. Romo (33) F. Jones (11) D. Bryant (24) J. Witten (7)
Patriots 49 T. Brady (36) S. Vereen (19)* W. Welker (13)* A. Hernandez (3)
Jets 19 M. Sanchez (14) B. Powell (11) J. Kerley (8) D. Keller (12)
Saints 13 D. Brees (3) P. Thomas (8) L. Moore (12) J. Graham (5)
Falcons 23 M. Ryan (12) M. Turner (12) J. Jones (4) T. Gonzalez (11)
Broncos 26 P. Manning (16) K. Moreno (21) E. Decker (8) J. Dreessen (9)
Raiders 13 C. Palmer (18) D. McFadden (12) Heyward-Bey (14)* B. Myers (0)
Bengals 34 A. Dalton (14) Green-Ellis (16) A. Green (11) J. Gresham (6)
Eagles 13 N. Foles (9) B. Brown (4) R. Cooper (8) C. Harbor (2)
* - denotes multiple players on the team had 10-plus Fantasy points

Why I'm waiting for Wilson

Simply put, the Giants have no choice but to put the ball back into David Wilson's hands. To help fix their busted offense they need to re-establish their run game, not just between the tackles but on the outer edges and on screens and dump-off passes.

Wilson is their best option to get that going and it's not even close. Brandon Jacobs is a bruiser with no quickness or agility left in his tank. Da'Rel Scott is a better passing downs back but doesn't have the playmaking ability Wilson has.

I noticed Wilson trying to get revved up last week at Carolina. Though he totaled zero yards on his first seven carries, those official numbers don't include a 17-yard run to the left edge for a touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty (the hold, I believe, was just far enough away on the play to not make a difference had the defender not been held). Then when the game was lopsided in the third quarter Wilson picked up a few more opportunities, reeling off runs for 11, 14 (called back due to penalty that did help Wilson out), minus-1, 12 and 18 yards.

It should be enough to show the Giants coaches that he can help the offense, even if it is painfully obvious that the Giants offensive line is a major problem. Maybe that gets worked out, maybe the Giants work around it or maybe Wilson is part of the solution (he can catch the ball). But his skill set is too valuable for the Giants to ignore when they're looking for wins.

With four of the G-Men's next six games against the Eagles, Vikings and Raiders, I would try pawning off a receiver for Wilson immediately.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Russell Wilson won't have to throw much against Jacksonville, and that's why he'll stink. I couldn't have been more wrong. Wilson's first score was a goal-line job where tight end Zach Miller faked a block, actually hit the ground, and got up and was wide open for an easy score. The second, also to Miller, came off a play-action bootleg that had most of the Jaguars defense confused. The third was on an 11-yard post pattern by Sidney Rice and the fourth was not a well thought-out pass but Rice plucked it right in front of a Jaguars defensive back for a score. The lessons learned: Jacksonville's pass defense isn't very good, and anytime a quarterback needs to get in a groove his team will afford him the chance against any weak opponent. Let's hope Wilson can build off of this when he plays at Houston and at Indy over the next two weeks.

Reality: Dwayne Bowe's numbers are in trouble. Bowe would love a "get right" game against the Jaguars but he's already played them. Through three games Bowe has 17 targets, nine catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. Jamaal Charles has more targets while Donnie Avery has one fewer target. Avery is the only Chiefs player with a receiving average higher than 11.0 and has two catches for more than 30 yards (only one was a legitimate deep pass). The common thread? Alex Smith, who has attempted just eight passes for 15-plus yards through three games (105 attempts!). The problems that hindered Michael Crabtree in San Francisco are now in Bowe's lap in Kansas City.

Fantasy: Chris Ivory is the Jets' best running back. I'm more confident than ever in Bilal Powell leading the Jets' ground game. Ivory's hamstring has flared up, Mike Goodson will never be more than a passing-downs option and the offense is just barely good enough to give him a chance to post some good cumulative numbers. He has 12 and 14 points in standard formats the last two weeks. Consider Powell the cheapest starting running back available via trade right now.

Reality: Josh Gordon isn't going away. I would be stunned if Josh Gordon's numbers regressed like they did last year when he had three good games in a row and then pretty much disappeared. The Browns are sorely lacking at running back and I don't see that changing. That means they'll pass more often, much like they did last week at Minnesota, and with Jordan Cameron forcing defenses to pay attention to him it won't be a matter of Gordon being double covered all of the time. Brian Hoyer has also showed that he can chuck it. Gordon might not get 19 targets or 10 catches in a game again this season but we haven't seen his last 100-yard contest.

Fantasy: It's a good idea to spend a decent draft pick on a DST. The top three DSTs drafted this summer were the Seahawks, 49ers and Bears, all with a pick before 100th overall on average. None of them are the top DST through three weeks, though the Seahawks rank second and the Bears rank fourth. The Niners? 29th. The Bengals, Broncos and Texans were also early Fantasy DST choices and none of them are in the Top 12 right now. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, Cowboys and Panthers are in the Top 6. Next year do yourself a favor and wait forever for a DST unless it's an absolute stud unit like the Seahawks, which works as a Round 11 pick.

Reality: I'm liking Kenbrell Thompkins. Of course, I liked Thompkins before, and it's easy to say I like him following a two-score performance. But over three weeks he's been thrown at in or near the end zone five times and it began to pay off last week. Assume that by the time the Patriots' receiving corps gets healthy Thompkins and Brady will have their chemistry issues close to being fixed. Defenses won't be able to do any better than single coverage on Thompkins, making him a consistent No. 3 Fantasy receiver.

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
Eagles' Chris Polk gets first-team reps in practice
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Eagles running back Chris Polk received first-team reps in practice on Wednesday, according to CSNPhilly.com.

Polk opened practice with the starters and ran a couple of plays. LeSean McCoy watched the plays from the sideline. Following practice, McCoy stressed that it wasn't a big deal. "We rotate all the time," he said. "[Running back coach Duce Staley] pulled me out. [Darren] Sproles wasn't in either." Polk is coming off a three touchdown performance in Week 15. It's possible he could find his way into more playing time given the practice situation. 


Seahawks without three offensive lineman on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Seahawks did not have three of their offensive linemen at practice on Wednesday, according to ESPN.

Max Unger, Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy were all held out. Unger has missed the past four games due to an ankle and knee issue. He was able to practice last Friday, but did not play on Sunday. Okung is dealing with a bruised lung, but there's a chance he'll recover in time for Sunday's game. "[Okung is] going to have some stuff done [Thursday] that will let us know where he sits and all that," head coach Pete Carrol said. "He’s not out of the plan yet."

Sweezy is dealing with an ankle injury. His appearance on the injury report comes as somewhat of a surprise. 


Lions pick up CB Josh Thomas
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Lions have claimed cornerback Josh Thomas on waivers, according to the New York Post

Thomas was cut by the Jets on Tuesday, but found a new job quickly. He's played in three games this season, registering two tackles. 


Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch sits out on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch did not practice on Wednesday.

Lynch has been using Wednesday as a veteran's day all season, so the move isn't a big surprise. He's been battling a back injury throughout most of the season, but has been able to play through it. Lynch has 1133 rushing yards, with 10 touchdowns, this year. 


Texans' DeAndre Hopkins unable to practice on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins did not practice on Wednesday.

Hopkins is dealing with an ankle injury, and was unable to go. Hopkins has played in all 14 games this season. He has 1167 yards on 69 receptions. Hopkins has caught six touchdowns. His status will likely be determined based on how much he is able to practice on Thursday and Friday. 


49ers WR Michael Crabtree misses practice Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury, reports CSNBayArea.com. Crabtree, who has not cleared 60 receiving yards since Week 11, isn't believed to be seriously hurt.

He's scheduled to play the Chargers on Saturday night. If Crabtree can't go, it could mean increased targets for fellow starter Anquan Boldin.


Raiders QB Derek Carr limited by thumb injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was limited in Wednesday's practice with a thumb injury, but coach Tony Sparano isn't too concerned, reports CSNBayArea.com. Carr has thrown one or zero touchdown passes in four of his past five games entering Sunday's contest against Buffalo.

Report: Jay Cutler to be benched Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Bears will bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a big surprise given the seven-year, $126 million contract Cutler signed in January. Cutler has had a big problem with turnovers this season, throwing 18 interceptions and fumbling 12 times. The move could mark the end of Cutler's season as the starter, and puts his future in Chicago in jeopardy. 

The team will turn to Jimmy Clausen to replace Cutler.


Texans RB Arian Foster held out Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Texans running back Arian Foster did not practice Wednesday with what the team called a hip injury. Foster was listed on the injury report last week with a groin injury, then racked up 117 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches at Indy.

Foster, who might just be getting a veteran's rest day, is expected to start Sunday against the Ravens. Houston is a 5.5-point underdog at Caesars Palace Race and Sports Book.


Report: Bears to start Jimmy Clausen Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Bears will start Jimmy Clausen Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a major surprise. While Jay Cutler has faced scrutiny for his body language and demeanor, the team handed him a seven-year, $126 million contract last season. The move seems to indicate that Cutler is done for the season, and puts his career with the Bears in jeopardy.

Clausen has seen time in three games this season, completing three passes in nine attempts. His last start came back in 2010, his rookie season. That year, Clausen threw for 1,558 yards, with three touchdowns against nine interceptions. 

The Lions are currently 7-point favorites, according to VegasInsider.com.


 
 
 
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