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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
Lions WR Calvin Johnson puts in limited practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:30 pm ET) Lions wideout Calvin Johnson (ankle) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday ahead of his Week 16 visit to Chicago. Johnson has caught 23 balls for 357 yards and three touchdowns over the past three weeks, and is not expected to be limited in any way Sunday.

The Bears rank 31st in passing defense, giving up 272 yards per game. They've given up a league-high 33 passing touchdowns.

Detroit is favored by 6.5 or 7 points at Vegas sportsbooks.


Patriots WR Edelman, RB Blount dealing with injuries
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:30 pm ET) Two Patriots skill position players have suffered injuries that could affect their playing statuses for the Sunday game against the host Jets.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman was limited in practice Wednesday with a concussion, though it's unclear when it was sustained. He must pass protocol to be cleared for Week 16 action.

Running back LeGarrette Blount, meanwhile, has a hurt shoulder.


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by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has called "ridiculous" a Fox Sports report that some teammates snubbed him during pregame introductions Sunday, per The Associated Press.

There have been rumblings much of the season that some Browns have little respect for Manziel, who has admitted that he didn't work particularly hard when he was a backup to Brian Hoyer.


Chargers QB Rivers misses practice, but should play in game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was absent from practice Wednesday with chest and back issues, but is expected to play Saturday at San Francisco.

'Pretty slim' chance Giants RB Rashad Jennings plays Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:10 pm ET) Giants running back Rashad Jennings (ankle) expects to sit out practice Thursday for the second straight day, and his chances of playing Sunday at St. Louis are "pretty slim," reports ESPN.com. Rookie Andre Williams would start in Jennings' place. He's carried 42 times for 175 yards and a touchdown the past two weeks.

The website expects Orleans Darkwa to back up Williams and possibly play on passing downs.

Jennings reinjured his sprained right ankle on the first play from scrimmage Week 15. He's been a non-factor since the Nov. 30 loss at Jacksonville.

The Giants are 5-point underdogs at most Vegas sportsbooks.


Texans WR Johnson back on practice field Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:02 pm ET) Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has taken a step forward toward his goal of playing Sunday against Baltimore by practicing Wednesday.

He missed the Week 15 game against Indianapolis with a concussion.


Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams gets in limited practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:56 pm ET) Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who's missed two straight games with a hand injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Running back Jonathan Stewart averaged 21.5 touches the past two weeks, and his workload could take a hit if Williams returns.

Carolina hosts the Browns on Sunday.


Troubled DE Ray McDonald released by 49ers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:39 pm ET) Defensive end Ray McDonald has been released by the 49ers after a second assault charge had been levied against him in the last four months, per CSNBayArea.com. The latest are sexual assault allegations for which he is being investigated.

The team had stood by McDonald after the first incident, but apparently have lost faith in his innocence.

McDonald, who was finishing his eighth season with San Francisco and has started every game this year, ends 2014 with three sacks and having contributed to 39 tackles.


Harry Douglas among Falcons wideouts watching Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:24 pm ET) Like starters Julio Jones (hip) and Roddy White (ankle), Falcons receiver Harry Douglas (foot) was held out of practice Wednesday. White and Douglas are expected to play Sunday at New Orleans, while Jones' status won't be decided until shortly before kickoff.

Normally the No. 3 receiver, Douglas started in Jones' place Week 15 and caught 10 passes for 131 yards. He figures to be targeted heavily Sunday if Jones sits out again.

The Falcons are 6-point underdogs at every major Las Vegas sportsbook.


Eye issue limits Packers RB Eddie Lacy on Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:04 pm ET) Packers running back Eddie Lacy was limited in practice Wednesday due to an eye problem that coach Mike McCarthy said is not game-related, reports ESPN.com. Lacy is fully expected to start Sunday against the Buccaneers.

He has piled up 1,336 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns through 14 games.


 
 
 
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