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Fantasy & Reality: Anything but terrific

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Tom Brady has one game over 300 yards passing, three with two touchdowns, four straight with an interception and less than 10 Fantasy points in three of his last four (and just one on the year with over 20 Fantasy points).

Just in time for a date with a Steelers defense that's allowed five passing touchdowns and zero 300-yard passers through seven games.

Fantasy owners can't start Brady anymore "just because he's Tom Brady." Circumstances have changed. There's definitely something amiss with his right hand. His offensive line is depleted. His receiving corps isn't as qualified as it has been in the past. And all of this is showing up on film, in the stat book and in the Patriots' play calling.

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Consider this: Two of Brady's passes that could have been good for at least 10 yards each were dropped last week with a third pass that should have counted for a 30-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski called back because of a holding penalty. If Gronk's touchdown stood and if those drops were caught, Brady would have finished with two touchdowns but still wouldn't have had 20 Fantasy points. He would have had 16 in a standard league, good enough for his highest total in four weeks.

Playcalling was especially a factor last week -- Brady officially attempted 22 passes and handed off 33 times, including a dozen times in the Pats' final 16 plays. To put it in perspective, it was the third time in his last 46 games including the playoffs that Brady didn't attempt at least 30 passes. Not that it would have helped him -- even in his games where he's thrown a bunch this season he's averaging 5.94 yards per attempt this year and has completed 55.7 percent of his passes. Christian Ponder has better numbers there.

Brady's mysterious hand injury seemingly wasn't a big factor last week, but it's something to monitor. Save for some long passes to the sideline, Brady's passes seemed fine but he stuck his hand into a warmer on his waist between plays. I don't know what that's about but it seemed awkward given the weather for the game was clear and 50 degrees. He didn't have the warmer in Week 7. It's very possible that the Patriots' run-heavy game plan -- namely in the first half -- was decided upon in part because of Brady's hand.

Protection was a factor last week and could be a big factor going forward. Brady was sacked three times by the Dolphins, twice after starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer got hurt (excluding a third sack wiped out by a Miami penalty). Losing Vollmer is a problem for New England but a leaky offensive line has been a factor all season -- Brady's been sacked 23 times through seven games including 16 times over the last four weeks. By comparison, he was sacked 14 times or less through seven games in each of the last four years.

And obviously his receiving corps has become a major factor. Danny Amendola looked like Wes Welker in Week 1 but has pretty much resembled, well, Danny Amendola in every other game. Kenbrell Thompkins has faded, Aaron Dobson needs to show more consistency and Julian Edelman is a nice slot receiver but not a consistent stat producer. None of these guys are game breakers, save for Gronkowski (and Amendola when he's healthy, and maybe Dobson someday).

So Fantasy owners with Brady should be nervous. The right plan of attack isn't to start Brady, especially this week against the Steelers (five passing touchdowns allowed) nor in two weeks at the Panthers (six passing touchdowns allowed).

The worst part about all of this is that Brady's history against the Steelers isn't so bad. In eight games including two playoff games, the Pats are 6-2 under Brady with the passer getting the equivalent of 20 or more Fantasy points in half of those games (and four of six wins). This is a Steelers scheme the Patriots are familiar with and have attacked in the past -- but there's some doubt about just how much they can manipulate it now.

Brady's matchups ease up in Week 12. Until then, a handful of good quarterbacks are out there for the taking:

Replacing Tom Brady
1. Jake Locker at STL, vs. JAC, vs. IND
2. Terrelle Pryor vs. PHI, at NYG, at HOU
3. Ben Roethlisberger at NE, vs. BUF, vs. DET
4. Ryan Tannehill vs. CIN, at TB, vs. SD

I like Locker the best -- he has posted two or more touchdowns in four straight games and has played great. A favorable schedule really helps him out. I could go either way on Big Ben and Pryor -- Pryor has more sizzle but both quarterbacks have one game this year with more than one touchdown (like Brady). Pryor has three games with 20-plus Fantasy points; Big Ben has one with more than 18 points. Tannehill would kill for a 20-point game but a decent schedule helps him out.

The idea of benching Brady is frustrating but you've lived with his results pretty much all season. If you're not going to bench him before a tough matchup, knowing he's not the same guy he's been (at least statistically), then at least you know what to expect.

Saint happens

Marques Colston and Darren Sproles have been freaking Fantasy owners out with their weak stat lines. While New Orleans has averaged 28.0 points and 396.0 total yards per game, the veteran duo has averaged 118.0 total yards per game and have three touchdowns combined.

Sproles' case is weird -- typically a guy who plays a little less than half a game, he's been reduced to under 25 percent of the Saints' total plays in two of the team's last three. That's not the only number out of whack -- he's had five carries or less in five straight, including no carries last week vs. Buffalo. And over his last three he has 13 catches on 19 targets, low for him. It feels like a lack of opportunities for Sproles, especially lately, and you just can't be a Fantasy stud without getting the ball on a regular basis.

Colston's problems are attributed to a lack of opportunities as well, but there's more to it than that. He has 40 targets on the season and hasn't made the most of them. His most recent target, a second-quarter bomb from Drew Brees, was pretty much on target but he sort of pulled up short on making the catch. He didn't get a sniff from Brees the rest of the game. Colston also looks as if he's not running at 100 percent, not gaining separation from defenders. Not that he was ever a speedy receiver but if you can't get open you can't get the ball. Colston has posted single digits in each of his last six and a single Fantasy point in each of his last three.

This is a good week to chill out on Sproles as the Jets' run defense is pretty stiff (not that he's getting many carries in the first place) and have handled running backs out of the backfield relatively well. It's tougher to suggest going in another direction from Colston because the Jets have treated receivers well. The matchup is really favorable but Colston has never been a beast outside of the Superdome. Two of 10 touchdowns last season came outdoors with only one 100-yard game. With his targets limited, it's probably best to treat him as a third receiver, nothing more.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Josh Gordon would struggle with the Chiefs. For their first three possessions in Week 8, the Browns offense looked as expected. Then the magic of a flea-flicker changed the course of the game as Gordon hauled in a 39-yard touchdown on a perfectly-executed trick play. From then on the Browns played with confidence and the Chiefs defense struggled to contain them. The odds were stacked against Gordon -- he had seven Fantasy points or less in two of his last four games and was getting Jason Campbell as his quarterback. Well, he kicked butt -- and a huge amount of credit goes to Campbell, who looked good. It'll be hard to sit Gordon going forward.

Reality: Colin Kaepernick is warming up. 'Kap finally broke through the 19 Fantasy point barrier last week against the Jaguars. I suspect he's starting to get his groove back just in time for a Michael Crabtree return in about a month. If you're hurting at quarterback, now's the time to trade for Kaepernick since he's on a bye.

Fantasy: Marvin Jones is a one-week wonder. Catching four touchdowns in a single week is pretty tough to repeat, but catching touchdowns in consecutive games is also tough to do. Jones has done it for three straight weeks. He's been the key to Andy Dalton's sensational hot streak. The second-year wideout has eight red-zone targets and caught them all, seven for touchdowns. It's like he's this year's James Jones! Why wouldn't the Bengals bump up his playing time this week? I'd feel pretty good about starting him because defenses can't pay too much attention to him with A.J. Green on the other side of the field.

Reality: Andre Ellington should be the man in Arizona. After torching the Falcons, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wouldn't commit to making Ellington his primary running back going forward nor giving him more touches going forward -- but he should. His concern is that Ellington isn't big enough to handle the position and doesn't want to give him more than, say, 40 snaps. It's depressing because we finally saw the rookie's potential and it's going to get stifled by Rashard Mendenhall. Hopefully Arians has a change of heart during the bye week.

Reality: Mike Tolbert is legit. Tolbert has scored five times in his last five games and 10 times in his last 10 games going back to last season. Almost as impressive is that he's found at least 10 touches in each of his last three games, a sign the Panthers don't mind using him beyond the goal line. But he's fun to watch celebrate in the end zone and I think the Panthers players get a kick out of him too. I wouldn't be shocked if he made it 11 for 11 this week against a decimated Falcons defense.

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
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will play Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is indeed playing in Sunday's Super Bowl. With his girlfriend preparing to have their son very soon, but it will not be happening Sunday.

"I'm playing today," Sherman texted Peter King before the game Sunday.

Sherman totaled 57 tackles and four interceptions in 2014 with one forced fumble.


Lions' president optimistic team will re-sign Ndamukong Suh
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:47 pm ET) Lions team president Tom Lewand is expecting the team to be able to re-sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

"I really do believe he's got a lot invested in here, in himself and the community and the football team," Lewand said Sunday morning during an interview on WDIV-TV's Flashpoint. "He wants to have success in the NFL, obviously, but he wants to do that with us.

"I think there's a very, very good chance that we can get something done with him in the next few weeks."

Suh can become a free agent if the team does not use their franchise tag on him by March 2. 

"We've had a good chunk of our salary cap tied up in three players over the last few years," Lewand told WDIV. "Matthew, Calvin and Ndamukong have all had very lucrative contracts under the old rookie system, and even as Matthew and Calvin have done their extensions. So we've done that, we've lived in that environment. There's no reason we can't continue to live in that environment."


Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant expects to remain with team
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:50 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant said Saturday he is expecting to be back in Dallas in 2015 and have fans excited for a long time.

"Regardless, I’m a Cowboy," Bryant said to NBC Dallas. "But it is what it is. It’s business. I am a free agent. I’m very confident that something is going to happen, something is going to get done, and have these Cowboys fans excited for a long time."

Bryant is set to become a free agent this offseason if he and the Cowboys cannot agree to a deal or Dallas uses the franchise tag on him.

"I’m a Cowboy at heart. It’s Cowboys forever," Bryant said.


Falcons' owner wants Julio Jones long term, but not his decision
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:45 pm ET) Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Sunday the team wants to sign Julio Jones to a contract extension, but it is not his decision to make.

"As the owner, it's not my decision to make," Blank said. "The new coach will spend a great deal of time assessing the roster and all of our players, and obviously Julio is a critical one.

"Well, I think it's a decision that the head coach will look at the talent on the roster," Blank said. "Julio's been a great player for us and a great talent, and he represents us on the field and off the field as well as anybody else."

Jones is set to make $10.2 million in 2015 and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2016 if a new deal is not signed. In 2014, Jones set a franchise-record 1,593 receiving yards in 15 games on 104 receptions with six touchdowns.


Lions' Calvin Johnson wants to keep Ndamukong Suh in Detroit
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said he's willing to do just about anything to keep defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in a Lions uniform, reports MLive.com.

Suh is set to become a free agent in March if the Lions cannot reach a deal with him and Johnson said he wants Suh to remain a Lion.

"I'll do whatever I got to do," Johnson said.


Report: Jets, Bills interested in pursuing Patriots' Darrelle Revis
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:14 am ET) If Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis becomes a free agent in the offseason, the Jets and Bills would reportedly be interested in the Pro Bowl cornerback, reports ESPN.

Revis is a former first-round pick of the Jets, where he played for current Bills coach Rex Ryan. The Patriots have a $20 million team option they can exercise to keep Revis off the market.

In 16 games for the Patriots during the 2014 season, Revis registered 47 tackles and two interceptions.


Jets' Johnson: Signing Muhammad Wilkerson is among priorities
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:48 am ET) Jets owner Woody Johnson told reporters Saturday keeping defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson beyond the 2015 season is among the team's top priorities in the offseason, reports NJ.com.

Wilkerson can become a free agent after the 2015 season and signing Wilkerson to a long-term deal will be a topic of discussion when the front office meets Tuesday.

"I think that's something that we'll be looking at, starting Tuesday, when we get our first staff in there," Johnson said. "We're going to take a look at Mo; Mo's obviously a great player. In terms of getting all that going, I'm sure that will be one of their priorities."

Wilkerson played in 13 games during 2014 season and registered 56 tackles and six sacks.


Report: Patriots expect center Bryan Stork to start Sunday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:35 am ET) Patriots center Bryan Stork is dealing with an MCL injury in his knee, but is expected to start the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Seahawks, sources told the NFL Network.

Stork suffered the injury during the divisional playoff game against the Ravens. He was recently upgraded from questionable to probable.

The Patriots were favored by one-point, but the line has moved to pick'em.


Report: Seahawks offer Marshawn Lynch huge extension
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:31 am ET) Wanting to keep Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch for the long haul, the Seahawks have offered Lynch a contract extension that could possibly keep him in Seattle for the rest of his career, sources told NFL.com.

Lynch is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season. If signed, the deal would pay Lynch $10 million in 2015 instead of the $5 million he is currently due next season.

Over the last four seasons, Lynch has amassed the most carries and rushing yards in the NFL. He has been in contract discussions with the Seahawks for several weeks with the team believing he has earned a hefty raise. 


Packers' Aaron Rodgers named NFL MVP at NFL Honors
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named the 2015 NFL MVP at the NFL Honors awards show, held Saturday at the Phoenix Symphony Hall in Phoenix, Ariz.

Rodgers played all 16 regular-season games in 2014 for just the second time in the last five seasons, completing 65.6 percent of his passes while racking up 4,381 passing yards, 38 passing touchdowns and five interceptions. He also added two more touchdowns on the ground while gaining 269 rushing yards on 43 carries.

Several other awards were handed out at the ceremony Saturday, as follows.

AP Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

AP Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: Odell Beckham, Giants

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aaron Donald, Rams

AP Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

AP Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Cardinals

AP Assistant Coach of the Year: Todd Bowles, Cardinals

Walter Payton Man of Year: Thomas Davis, Panthers

Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

Salute to Service Award: Jared Allen, Bears

NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers

FedEx Air Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Packers

FedEx Ground Player of the Year: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers

Deacon Jones Award: Justin Houston, Chiefs

Greatness on the Road Award: Tony Romo, Cowboys

Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year: Odell Beckham one-handed catch

Don Shula High School Coach of the Year: Bruce Larson, Somerset (Wisconsin) High School

In addition, eight finalists were voted into the Hall of Fame: running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown, defensive end/linebacker Charles Haley, linebacker Junior Seau, guard Will Shields, center Mick Tingelhoff and executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.


 
 
 
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