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Reality Check: What to do when you're 2-2

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If you're like maybe half of the Fantasy Football-playing world, you enter Week 5 with a record of 2-2.

Right back where you started. Kind of makes you rethink your priorities, doesn't it?

But progress isn't always measured in wins and losses. I know that sounds like something a lame duck coach would tell a hostile media after a miserable 3-13 campaign, but at the start of a Fantasy Football season, when nobody really knows which of their players they can trust, I've found it to be true.

That's not to say you wouldn't have given yourself a pretty nice cushion by starting 4-0 or dug yourself into a frightening hole by starting 0-4, but chances are unless you didn't know what you were doing on Draft Day or made a brazenly lopsided trade somewhere along the line, you owe your start, however it's gone, to pure, dumb luck.

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I say that not to belittle anyone's achievement but to encourage those of us who have yet to separate ourselves from the pack. I say "us" because all but one of my teams are 2-2. I say "yet" because I couldn't be more OK with it.

The reason? The first four weeks are a crapshoot. With so many unexpected performances happening all at once, distinguishing the legitimate from the aberrational becomes as much of a challenge as the draft itself. And it influences your lineup decisions. Do you start this guy because of what he has done, this guy because of what he's supposed to be doing or this guy because of what he could do with that matchup? If you're like me, you have so many players you could consider starting and so many different criteria for starting them that all you can do is take your best guess.

The thing about guesses is they're often wrong. And if they're wrong enough at the wrong time, you lose.

Ever had your bench outscore your starting lineup? Yep, we've all been there.

Eventually, everything begins to make sense again. Players settle into patterns, and expectations are adjusted accordingly. Lineup decisions become easier, and even though they don't always work out -- a certain amount of randomness is to be expected every week -- you can be confident in your judgment and trust it to pay off next time. I think I've just now reached that point with some of my teams.

By now, I should know Jordan Cameron is a must-start regardless of where I drafted him in relation to Jared Cook. By now, I should know Philip Rivers gets priority over Russell Wilson. By now, I should know just about any wide receiver I might roster is a better choice for my flex spot than Maurice Jones-Drew. Whether or not Cameron, Rivers and that third wide receiver -- we'll call him Kenbrell Thompkins -- have the worst games of their life next time out is irrelevant. They've already proven something to me. I'm no longer just guessing with them, and in the long run, the results should reflect it.

But of course, that won't be true for everybody. Not every 2-2 team can win the league or even make the playoffs. Not every 2-2 team is as good as every 4-0 team. But some are. Particularly at this stage of the season, the record doesn't tell the whole story.

So instead of bemoaning your fate and resigning to mediocrity, the best thing you can do at 2-2 (or even 1-3, really) is to assess why your record is what it is. If you owe a loss to Eli Manning's miserable Week 3 performance and have since decided he's probably not your best bet at quarterback from week to week, you should like the direction your team is headed. Then again, if you owe a win to Danny Woodhead's unexpected two touchdowns in Week 4, you might still have some work to do. And if you can't figure out who you owe any of your wins or losses to because everyone on your team has been equally good and bad for different stretches this season, well, you're in the most enviable position of all, provided you know what to do with it.

If success comes through the natural elimination of choices, which is sort of the picture I just painted, then a surplus of talent can actually work against you. True, a little depth is useful for handling bye weeks and such, but I prefer having too little to too much. Depth is best used not for playing matchups, but as trade bait. If you can put together an attractive enough package of lesser talents to land a greater one -- the kind you couldn't bring yourself to bench, regardless of matchups -- you not only eliminate the potential for choices, but the need for them.

Granted, Fantasy owners have been trying to pull off 2-for-1 deals since the dawn of the Internet. Among seasoned players, it's easier said than done and has become so trite that some might even call it offensive. But that's for offers made in the interest of fairness. Load up the two-fer (or even three-fer) side of the deal enough that the other guy can't possibly turn it down, and hey, maybe he won't.

In case it's not clear, I'm talking about intentionally losing deals, in the most academic sense.

If you haven't checked out colleague Dave Richard's Fantasy Trade Value Chart , you should. It's pretty amazing. How he manages to get the arithmetic to work out so perfectly is ... intimidating, to be perfectly honest. I can't even look him in the eye anymore.

But the danger in a one-size-fits-all sort of guide -- and I'm sure he'd tell you the same thing -- is that it can stifle outside-the-box thinking, becoming the end-all, be-all of trade evaluation. While in theory, Lamar Miller and Julian Edelman should equal DeMarco Murray, if the Murray owner isn't convinced, the deal isn't happening, leaving you with an overloaded bench and no idea who to start. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to get the deal done, pairing Miller with someone a little more established like Marques Colston. Maybe you planned to ride Colston the rest of the way, but if the deal would end your dilemma at running back, couldn't you live with Edelman instead?

In the process of writing this column, I actually pulled off my first trade of the season, swapping Andre Johnson and Knowshon Moreno for Doug Martin. Well, why not? I understand Martin's value isn't at its highest right now, given the state of the Buccaneers' offense, but that's part of what made the deal viable for the other guy. Martin is a sure 20 carries every week and a good enough receiver to emerge as rookie quarterback Mike Glennon's security blanket underneath. Plus, he's just too talented to keep averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

But regardless of who he is and what he has around him, the bottom line is all those carries make Martin too valuable to sit in Fantasy. For a wide receiver with an extensive injury history and persistent touchdown issues and a part-time back -- granted, one of the better part-time backs, but one I still wouldn't be able to trust every week -- he's exactly the type of player I was hoping to get.

Here's the thing, though: I would have been willing to give up more, perhaps even throwing in Darren McFadden if negotiations went that far. Boy, would that have blown up the trade chart. I had the depth to accommodate it, though. It would have been worth it to me to lock in a stable lineup instead of continuing the guessing game every week.

And that's how you win over seasoned Fantasy owners in an all-too-often stagnant trade market. Be bold. Send them an offer that will really knock their socks off. Just be sure you're the one getting the player you trust to be the best the rest of the way.

If it means gutting your bench, so be it. Remember, the waiver wire is still in play. New players are emerging every week. Chances are between now and whenever you need a bye-week replacement, you'll have found someone competent to use, at least in a standard 10- or 12-team league. You don't need to have the rest of your season planned out today. As long as you have the next week taken care of, trade with confidence.

Naturally, if you're not in a position of enviable depth and don't like the direction your 2-2 team is headed, you might want to be on the other end that deal, getting back Johnson, Moreno and McFadden so that you no longer have to start Golden Tate as your second wide receiver or Jacquizz Rodgers as your second running back. If adding a player fills a hole, you're solving a dilemma, not creating one.

A stable lineup -- that's the goal. Once you find yours, that 2-2 start will seem like ancient history.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Bears QB Jay Cutler has no issues with Marshall's locker-room rant
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:49 pm ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said he was not upset with wide receiver Brandon Marshall's postgame rant in the locker room following Sunday's loss against the Dolphins.

"He’s an emotional guy," Cutler said, per The Chicago Tribune. "Whenever he gets frustrated, he’s going to get emotional most of the time, and he’s going to speak from the heart, and he’s going to make sure everyone else around him hears him. It wasn’t anything that caught us off guard or was off-putting. It was frustration coming out and him just letting us know that it’s important to him."

Cutler added he doesn't believe Marshall crossed a line and said Marshall's actions were not directed at him.

"He didn’t come near me," Cutler said. "He didn’t say my name. I don’t think he attacked anybody personally (with) what he was saying."


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(4:43 pm ET) Dolphins tight end Charles Clay was limited in practice Thursday due to a knee injury.

Clay has been dealing with a knee issue all season, which may have limited his effectiveness early in the year. He was able to score his first touchdown last week, but isn't fully over his injury just yet. Clay has been able to play through the issue all season, so he'll likely put in more work at practice Friday. 


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Clearly, though, it isn't a slam dunk, and the main reason why is Richard Sherman. He's not quite Darrelle Revis in his prime, but he's been known to shut down a top flight wide receiver or two. He just held the Rams' Brian Quick to two catches for 33 yards in Week 7.

Of course, Benjamin is probably better than Quick and plays for a team with a more consistent passing attack. His size makes him an ideal red zone target, and he's scored a touchdown in five of seven games this season. How do you sit that?

Again, you probably don't, but keep your expectations in check for Benjamin this week.


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 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.


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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.


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(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.


 
 
 
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