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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
Bishop Sankey takes a step forward, at Shonn Greene's expense
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:29 pm ET) Titans running back Shonn Greene might have found the end zone in Week 3 against the Bengals, but he saw less of the field than any of his backfield mates in the 33-7 loss.

Maybe it was just the flow of the game, but Greene's role was much-diminished Sunday. Greene saw sporadic playing time, including deep into the fourth quarter, but took a big backseat to both Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey. Greene played 46 percent of the team's snaps in Week 1, but has seen that number fall to 16 and 20 percent over the last two weeks.

And while McCluster was the big winner in Week 2, his role fell to 26 percent of the snaps in Week 3. This time around, it was Bishop Sankey's turn to shoulder the load, as he jumped up from 10.9 percent of the snaps through two games to 42 percent Sunday. He responded to the increased role well, with 61 yards on 10 carries, as well as one catch for 9 yards on his lone target.

Sankey was considered a big-time sleeper heading into the season, but we knew he would have to fight for time in a crowded backfield. Based on Week 3, he just might have earned it. Now is the time to snatch him up in the 34 percent of CBSSports.com leagues he is still available in.  


Jaguars see some changes -- and success -- in backfield in Week 3
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:20 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart has fallen flat on his face in his first three games as a feature back, and he started ceding playing time in Week 3 against the Colts.

Gerhart played 66 and 70 percent of the team's snaps in the first two games of the season, respectively, but that number dipped all the way to 50 percent Sunday. And, while Jordan Todman has served as the team's primary backup (21.1 percent of the snaps, first two games) it was converted college quarterback Denard Robinson who saw a step up in playing time in Week 3.

Robinson played 33 percent of the team's offensive snaps, after playing in just 11.4 percent in the first two games. And, though he did not have a high bar to clear, Robinson established new career-highs in carries (eight) and rushing yards (33) in the game.

The Jaguars gave Gerhart a three-year contract this offseason, but the early returns have not been promising; just ask any of Gerhart's Fantasy owners. Gerhart was drafted 41st overall on average this season, but might just be droppable at this point. Keep an eye on the team's playing time distribution, because Robinson might be an interesting sleeper if the team makes a change. 


Report: Duke Ihenacho (heel) to miss several weeks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:18 pm ET) Redskins safety Duke Ihenacho suffered a fractured heel bone Week 3 against the Eagles and will be out several weeks, according to ESPN 980 in Washington D.C.

Report: Jonathan Goodwin to miss time due to ankle sprain
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Saints center Jonathan Goodwin suffered a high ankle sprain Week 3 against the Vikings, sources told NFL.com. Goodwin is slated to undergo an MRI Monday to determine the severity of the injury and the length of time he will miss.

Denard Robinson has earned more reps on offense
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Monday running back Denard Robinson has earned the opportunity for more reps on offense. Robinson led Jacksonville in rushing during a 44-17 loss Week 3 against the Colts with 33 yards on eight carries.

Report: Vincent Jackson to remain active despite wrist injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:10 pm ET) Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson suffered a small fracture in his wrist during Thursday's game against the Falcons, multiple sources told FOXSports.com. However, the injury isn't expected to cost Jackson any playing time, as he plans to play Week 4 against the Steelers.

Jackson likely sustained the injury on the first play of Tampa Bay's second offensive series after he fell on his wrist following a hit from safety Dwight Lowery. Jackson continued to play without getting treatment.


Four Falcons players sit out practice Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:07 pm ET) Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring), wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), running back Antone Smith and wide receiver Devin Hester sat out practice Monday. Smith has a right hamstring injury, according to ESPN, but it is uncertain why Hester was held out.

Arian Foster uncertain if he will be back Week 4
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:03 pm ET) Texans running back Arian Foster is unsure if he will return from a hamstring injury Week 4 against the Bills and said Monday he remains "day to day."

"As soon as I feel 100 percent, I’ll be out there," Foster said, per The Houston Chronicle. "It’s my hamstring’s call."

Foster worked out before Sunday's game against the Giants and admitted his leg felt "really good," but "obviously" not good enough for him to play.

"I’ve played through a lot in this league -- knees, shoulders, broken bones -- but hamstrings are the hardest thing to gauge," Foster said, "because you don’t know how it’s going to fatigue or react to a certain cut."


Who was Teddy Bridgewater throwing to?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:01 pm ET) Teddy Bridgewater did not elicit as much excitement coming out of college as his fellow draft peers, and his NFL debut Sunday against the Saints reflected that. While Blake Bortles was tossing two touchdowns -- and two interceptions -- and Johnny Manziel was being used as a wide receiver on trick plays, Bridgewater came in did a solid, unspectacular job for the Vikings after Matt Cassel's injury Sunday.

Bridgewater put together a professional performance, though he didn't give the team enough to mount a comeback in the 20-9 loss. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards and added 27 on six carries, without recording a touchdown or turnover.

Bridgewater was not asked to do much, but he has plenty of weapons in this Minnesota offense, so that should change moving forward as he gets more comfortable. He targeted six players Sunday, and a breakdown of that could give Fantasy owners an idea of how he might spread the ball around moving forward:

Greg Jennings: six targets, four receptions

Cordarrelle Patterson: three targets, three receptions

Jerick McKinnon: five targets, two receptions

Matt Asiata: four targets, two receptions

Kyle Rudolph: one target, one reception

Rhett Ellison: one target, no receptions


Report: Kyle Rudolph needs surgery, out six weeks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:00 pm ET) Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is expected to miss six weeks after an MRI revealed he needs surgery, a source told NFL Network. Rudolph suffered a groin injury Week 3 against the Saints.

 
 
 
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