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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
RB Steven Jackson, cut by Falcons, isn't planning to retire
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:05 pm ET) Though he's without a team at the moment, running back Steven Jackson has no plans to retire. 

The Falcons officially released Jackson Thursday night, with immediate questions emerging about his future. On his own website, though, Jackson posted a statement saying he isn't hanging up the cleats just yet.  

"A lot has been written lately about my future," Jackson wrote. "There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defense over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game -- let's just say you were really feeling me at that point.

"Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense. I still have a warrior's heart. There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs. I know what I am still capable of, and I have every intention of proving it."

Jackson also admitted his two seasons with the Falcons were a disappointment as the organization did not reach the postseason in either season. He combined for only 1,250 yards in 2013 and 2014 after posting eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards when he was with the Rams. 


Raiders expected to release safety Tyvon Branch
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:34 pm ET) The Raiders will be parting ways with safety Tyvon Branch, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora

Branch only played in three games during the 2014 season due to a foot injury that placed him on injured reserve. That followed his 2013 season in which Branch was only able to participate in two games. 

However, Branch could be a commodity in what is otherwise considered a weak safety market. 

Branch signed a four-year, $26..6 million contract with the Raiders in 2012, with $17.6 million guaranteed.


Browns working to re-sign CB Buster Skrine
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:00 pm ET) The Browns are hopeful they can re-sign cornerback Buster Skrine but are probably going to have to try to do so after he hits the free agent market, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Skrine had a single-season best four interceptions in 2014 and will be someone that could command a hefty price tag on the open market. The Plain Dealer reports that Skrine is expecting anywhere from $5.5 million to $7 million per season. 

The Browns should be in a good position to match an offer for Skrine. Depending on what the 2015 cap number per team is, the Browns are likely to have well over $30 million to spend in free agency. 


Colts, Matt Hasselbeck agree to one-year contract
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) It looks like Matt Hasselbeck's NFL career will extend at least one more year. 

The Colts reached a one-year deal with backup quarterback Hasselbeck, the team announced on Thursday. 

Hasselbeck, 39, will enter his 17th year in the NFL. After starting out as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay for his first two seasons in 1999 and 2000, he joined the Seahawks via a trade and quickly established himself as a starting-caliber quarterback. 

In 16 NFL seasons, Hasselbeck has totaled 34,948 yards, 203 touchdowns and 148 interceptions. He'll be the top candidate to back up Andrew Luck next season. 


Report: Vikings, Adrian Peterson can communicate with each other
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:32 pm ET) Now that Adrian Peterson has been moved back to the Commissioner's Exempt list, the Vikings can reach out and communicate with him, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Peterson had been suspended by the NFL until April 15 and upheld by an arbitrator. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrator's decision, sending the case back down to go through the CBA. The NFL has removed the suspension, for now, while moving Peterson back to the Commissioner's Exempt list. 

The NFL announced in a statement that it is appealing Doty's ruling

Since the Vikings want Peterson to remain with them, they can now reach out and hold talks directly. While suspended by the NFL, the Vikings were unable to communicate with him. This is an interesting development because the Vikings have publicly stated they want him to stay in Minnesota. 

However, at least one report as indicated Peterson wants to leave and continue his NFL career elsewhere


Falcons release running back Steven Jackson
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:27 pm ET) The Falcons released running back Steven Jackson on Thursday, the team announced.

Jackson was owed $3.75 million in 2015, but with running back Devonta Freeman on the roster, it appears Jackson is expendable. In 2014, Jackson rushed for 707 yards and six touchdowns on 190 carries.

By cutting Jackson, the Falcons saved $3.7 million against the salary cap, reports the NFL Network.


Redskins sign Ricky Jean Francois to three-year contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) The Redskins signed defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois to a three-year deal Thursday, reports the NFL Network.

The deal is believed to be worth $9 million with $4 million guaranteed. With incentives, the deal can reach $11.25 million.

Jean Francois was cut by the Colts on Monday. In 2014, Jean Francois totaled 28 tackles and three sacks.


Report: Browns believe they still have a shot at Josh McCown
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:44 pm ET) The Browns remain confident that they can snag quarterback Josh McCown from the free agent ranks, according to a report from ESPN.com

McCown visited the Browns this week and has also received interest from the the Jets, Bills and Bears. The Browns are in the market for a starting-caliber quarterback with Brian Hoyer possibly leaving in free agency and with Johnny Manziel's status up in the air with the off-field issues hes working through. 

McCown threw 13 touchdowns to just one interception with the Bears in 2013, doing this while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler. His performance earned him a contract with the Buccaneers, though injuries and poor play resulted in a season that saw him throw 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 

McCown was released by the Buccaneers earlier this offseason. 


Report: Cardinals sign cornerback Damond Smith
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:12 pm ET) The Cardinals signed cornerback Damond Smith on Thursday, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Smith did not play during the 2014 season after being cut by the Chiefs. He has never played in an NFL game.


Chargers officially cut OL Jeromey Clary from roster
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5:52 pm ET) Chargers offensive lineman Jeromey Clary announced his retirement in January. However, the Chargers finally removed him from the offseason roster with a failed physical designation, according to the NFL transaction wire. 

Clary did not play during the 2014 season due to two hip surgeries. 

Clary spent all nine of his NFL years with San Diego. 


 
 
 
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