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Fantasy & Reality: Planning a playoff push

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's been nine weeks. You know where you stand. Either you're all but locked into a playoff spot, still in the hunt for a playoff spot or dreaming up mythical scenarios where you somehow back into a playoff spot.

This is the week to begin preparing for the stretch run. Most Fantasy league playoffs begin in Week 14, so there's only four weeks left of Fantasy Football for everybody in a league. Hatching a plan for the final four weeks could make the difference in making the playoffs versus not making it, or getting the top seed versus being forced into a first-round game. There's even a plan if only to play spoiler and be a thorn in the side of your leaguemates, which might be the only joy you'll get for the rest of the way.

If you're 7-2 or better ...

I'd say the chances of winning a couple of more games and making the playoffs are really good, so it's time to think about what your roster will look like for the rest of the way.

• Bye-week prep is a no-brainer. Check the NFL schedule and make sure you have a good replacement for your starters who haven't had a bye yet.

• Insure your lineup. Many strong Fantasy teams have good depth already but do what you can to back up your best players. I like to carry at least one good receiver and at least two good running backs for the stretch run. You don't have to carry a second quarterback or tight end if the bye for your starter has passed already. The waiver wire will do it for you.

• Consider the 'cuffs. Handcuffing your running backs is also an option, but you don't have to do it. If you've got a premier talent like Jamaal Charles and stuck Zac Stacy on your bench at some point then you don't have to get Charles' handcuff (Knile Davis). But you could conceivably sell high on Stacy to further improve your lineup.

• Consider the schedule. Only teams with two feet in the playoff picture should look at the late-season schedule and start making plans for lineup in Weeks 15 and 16.

Teams with a favorable late-season schedule (Weeks 13-17):
49ers: STL, SEA, at TB, ATL, at ARI
Bills: vs. ATL, at TB, at JAC, MIA, at NE
Chiefs: DEN, at WAS, at OAK, IND, at SD
Cowboys: OAK, at CHI, GB, at WAS, PHI
Eagles: ARI, DET, at MIN, CHI, at DAL
Texans: NE, at JAC, at IND, DEN, at TEN
Titans: at IND, at DEN, ARI, at JAC, HOU

• Go from great to elite. If you have great depth then it's probably worth your while to seek a trade for an elite player to bolster your lineup. Teams on the playoff bubble might not like parting with elite-level types but if you can afford to "overpay" by offering a great package for their stud, particularly with players you wouldn't normally start because of a logjam in your lineup, then go for it.

• Don't ignore the kicker or DST spots. If there's room to improve at kicker or DST, do it. I like to use my league's stats to see which kickers have been hot lately and which DSTs have been on the rise. Then I cross-reference it with the NFL schedule to see which teams have favorable matchups the rest of the way and then make a decision. Playing the waiver wire for both isn't a bad way to go either but I'd just as well find dedicated starters I don't have to think about.

My 7-2 team

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I'm a game up on the rest of my 12-team league at 7-2, thanks to a five-game winning streak. I've gotten a little lucky because I'm not even in the Top 5 in the league in scoring but I'm still here. Losing Justin Blackmon last week hurt.

QB: Philip Rivers
RB: Adrian Peterson
RB: Steven Jackson
WR: Demaryius Thomas
WR: Pierre Garcon
TE: Rob Gronkowski
FLEX: Denarius Moore
K: Ryan Succop
DST: Panthers
Bench: Joique Bell, Andre Ellington, Donald Brown, Jeremy Kerley, Kenny Stills, Brandon Bolden

I'll admit this isn't your typical stud 7-2 team, so there's work to be done to stay competitive. One option would be to dangle Rob Gronkowski or Adrian Peterson in a trade, but if I've made it this far with them then I'd be a little foolish to let them go. I'm supposed to be the team getting elite players, not giving them up!

My bye-week problems end after Week 10 so there's only minimal roster maneuvering needed this week. Otherwise I'm going to spend my add/drop moves on running backs because that's the position I need the most help with. And because I am not loaded at running back it's really important I back up Peterson with Toby Gerhart in case of a disaster in Minnesota. That's a move I'm making this week.

If you're between 4-5 and 6-3 ...

Most people are hovering around .500 and therefore most people like you are in the playoff hunt. That's cool because it makes the games all the more important. But unlike the teams with a bunch of wins racked up, your team is living week to week. A bad loss or two and the season crashes.

• Play to win now, not later. I don't like the idea of stashing guys for late in the year if I don't have to. If you've been sitting on Percy Harvin or Shane Vereen and can make a deal to help your team win now, do it.

• Consider moving a stud player for two very good starters. I never like telling people to trade the likes of Jimmy Graham or Marshawn Lynch because they're no-brainer starters who typically deliver. But if dealing off one of them means filling two or three holes in your lineup with quality players (not run-of-the-mill guys) then it's worth thinking about. The elite teams in your league might have the depth to make a compelling offer for your stud. Accepting a big deal will ultimately depend on who you have and how many question marks you have in your lineup.

• Prepare for bye weeks, not for the late season. Obviously you need to fill lineup holes as the bye weeks progress but picking up players and trading for guys just because they play Jacksonville in Week 16 isn't consistent with staying focused on the here and now. Playing the waiver wire for DSTs and kickers is a good option for you.

My 4-5 team

The gang from Fantasy Football Today plays in a 12-team league together every year. I'm one of five teams at 4-5 staring up at another five teams in the standings. I consider myself fortunate to be here given that I have overcome losing Julio Jones, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jermichael Finley, Andre Brown and Vick Ballard to injuries.

QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Adrian Peterson
RB: Mike Tolbert
WR: A.J. Green
WR: Terrance Williams
TE: Greg Olsen
FLEX: Mike James
K: Mason Crosby
DST: Packers
BENCH: Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Bolden, Joseph Randle, Daryl Richardson, James Jones, Harry Douglas

My running backs are pretty grim so I've gone ahead and let the league know that Adrian Peterson is on the block. If I can land two good rushers for him I'm going to have to take it. A combo platter of DeMarco Murray and C.J. Spiller, Chris Johnson and Danny Woodhead or Alfred Morris and Zac Stacy could be in the works. It's that kind of a deal I am looking for.

Deal or no deal, you will find me making moves on waivers. Luckily I still have a high waiver claim and Chris Ivory is out there for the taking. Rashad Jennings and Shonn Greene are out there too, both of whom aren't lighting the world on fire but are better than some of the guys I have. Fixing my running back problem and doing a double-check on the backup quarterbacks out there (Eli Manning, Jay Cutler are out there) are all on my checklist.

If you're 3-6 or worse ...

No one likes admitting it's over, but if you have six losses with four games to play then it's probably over. I've rarely seen teams make the playoffs at 7-6 or 6-7.

But it's worse to quit. If I'm in a league with friends then I'm aiming to play spoiler. I don't mind spending a little time on my team if it means keeping some of my pals on their toes. I'm not going to go gung-ho over playing waiver-wire roulette with kickers or DSTs unless there's a too-good-to-be-true matchup out there (think Titans or Giants this week) but I will pluck good players off waivers.

There isn't much else to say here. Be a good sport and finish what you started. If anything, you'll pick up a couple more wins and razz your buds about keeping them out of the top playoff seed or out of the playoffs for the next six months.

Is Foles for real?

I spent a lot of time going over Nick Foles' game at Oakland last week simply because of his production. While there's no question he performed incredibly well, he got a huge assist from the Raiders defense -- and it's not the first time he got help from an underperforming unit.

The Eagles' break-neck pace was really good, it felt like they were working harder to push the plays out than in previous weeks and it showed because the Raiders were exhausted. It also appeared that Foles did significantly better busting up zone coverage compared to man coverage -- five of his seven touchdowns came in zone coverage and one of the two in man coverage was because a cornerback fell down on the play. The Raiders secondary was a mess -- safety Brandian Ross missed a number of assignments, cornerbacks fell down, rookie D.J. Hayden had a bad game and even Charles Woodson was out of position a couple of times.

Foles has belittled bad defenses, torching the Giants for 197 yards and two touchdowns in a half and pasting the Buccaneers for 296 yards and three touchdowns. But it's the one game he looked bad in -- a home game vs. Dallas -- that has Fantasy owners jittery. In that game the Cowboys effectively used a lot of man coverage, making the reads a little tougher for Foles, who overshot a number of open receivers as well as missed open men downfield.

As it stands, the Packers rank 21st in Fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, 20th in passing yards allowed (250.5 per game) and tied for 17th in passing touchdowns allowed (14). This isn't a great unit, but then again, neither were the Cowboys when they played Foles. Moreover, the Packers can and likely will do something the Giants, Bucs, Cowboys and Raiders all struggled to do against Foles: Pressure him. The Packers got close to hitting Josh McCown on Monday, getting him once, but had at least three sacks in the two games prior. Keeping Foles clean will be a big priority for the Eagles but they'll have their hands full doing so.

I'd bank on Foles having a good but not amazing game -- certainly good enough to start -- but it's not a slam-dunk. And that's probably a good thing since we thought he'd be a slam-dunk to dominate against the Cowboys and he underwhelmed. You shouldn't start him over other obvious quarterbacks but don't pass him up for guys who haven't been consistent either.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: The right plan of attack isn't to start Tom Brady against the Steelers. I've learned a lot this season, including the re-teaching of a very good lesson: Don't bet against Tom Brady. Naturally, had you bet against him over his previous four stinkers then you would have looked like a genius. But he mastered the Steelers, a defense he's done well against in the past (which I even mentioned last week but chose to ignore!). I think two huge keys for him was how wide open Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson got, a surprise given how efficient the Steelers were against receivers coming into the game. I really like the look of Dobson in this offense and think he's worth speculating on. As for the plan to bench Brady in Week 11 at Carolina ... scrap it.

Reality: Robert Griffin III makes me nervous. I'd carry a good backup Fantasy quarterback if I were counting on Griffin. He didn't take any wicked shots against the Chargers last week but he didn't run much, either. This dynamic two-way threat had one carry and one pass attempt over 11 plays the Redskins had inside the Chargers' 10-yard line last week. It's probably the best for his health and obviously Redskins fans aren't complaining, but it sure left his Fantasy owners in a lurch. We've seen Griffin put up big numbers just once in his last six games, making him a risky Fantasy option going forward, even in a favorable matchup at Minnesota this week.

Fantasy: Arian Foster was active on Sunday night but didn't play. Just to clarify, Foster did play Sunday vs. the Colts. He just happened to play two plays before leaving with a back injury. There's a rule I have when a player is made active for a game: If it's someone you normally rely on, you start him. You'll be burned more often than not if you don't. Foster was questionable going into the game and our colleague Jason La Canfora said on Fantasy Football Today Sunday morning that it "doesn't look good" for Foster, but the Texans made him active. So, you should have started him. I promise you, it wasn't in the Texans' plans to have him play two plays and then sit out. No team -- save for the 2004 Vikings with Randy Moss -- would dedicate an active spot on game day just to keep a starting streak alive. It just doesn't happen.

Now the concern is what his availability is like going forward. Remember how long he sat out of training camp with a back injury? He's got one again. Ben Tate is obviously the primary handcuff, but Dennis Johnson is the guy behind him and a potential roster stash in deeper leagues.

Reality: Ryan Mathews is a situational running back. Mathews was the first running back to run for over 100 yards in consecutive games this season. In the games he did it he had double-digit carries in the second half as a clock killer. On Sunday against the Redskins the Chargers were playing from behind and didn't need Mathews to eat up time. I would expect something similar this week when the Broncos come to San Diego but not the week after when the Chargers make another West-to-East trip to play Miami.

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
Bills awarded waiver claim for QB Matt Simms
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8:28 pm ET) The quarterback situation in Buffalo has gotten a little more complicated on Friday. The Bills were awarded their waiver claim on QB Matt Simms, who was released by the Jets on Thursday, according to the team's official website. 

Simms has played just four games and has completed 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in his career.


Falcons waive LB Prince Shembo due to animal cruelty charges
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:55 pm ET) The Falcons have decided to waive linebacker Prince Shembo on Friday after he was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per nfl.com.

"We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo," the team said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo."

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Rams RB Trey Watts suspended four games
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:08 pm ET) Rams running back Trey Watts has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, according to profootballtalk.com.

Watts, who made the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, played in 14 games last season and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.

Watts is eligible to return for Week 5 against the Packers.


Falcons LB Prince Shembo charged with cruelty to animals
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:57 pm ET) Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo is being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's dog and has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police said Denicia Williams, Shembo's ex-girlfriend, reported on April 19 that Shembo had killed her Yorkie.

Williams took the dog to Shembo's residence and left them unattended at some point. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive.

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Seahawks' Kam Chancellor: 'This is the strongest offseason I've had'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:56 pm ET) Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor feels good. He should, he's finally healthy.

Chancellor, who has become accustomed to rehabbing nagging injuries during the offseason, is practicing with the team during organized team activities for the first time in a while, per The News Tribune.

“I feel great. Back to football form. Feel fast. Feel strong. I just feel good out there," Chancellor said. "I think this is the strongest offseason I’ve had since I’ve been in the league. I’ve been actually able to train in the offseason instead of having surgeries.”

Chancellor recorded 78 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 14 games last season.


Cardinals RB coach: David Johnson 'reminds me a lot of Matt Forte'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:44 pm ET) Cardinals rookie runningback David Johnson received a huge compliment from his position coach, per nfl.com.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said the third-round pick reminds him of a Pro Bowl running back.

"He reminds me a lot of Matt Forte," Mitchell said. "You can put him outside and use him as a receiver and he's a good runner."

Mitchell sees the comparison between the two when it comes to Johnson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something Forte has excelled at throughout his career.

"He has excellent hands and he's a bigger target to throw the ball to," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a big piece of the puzzle before this season is said and done."

Johnson rushed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Northern Iowa last year.


Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler absent at OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:30 pm ET) Patriots cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was noticeably absent from organized team activities on Friday, per nesn.com. It's unclear why Butler was not at practice.

Butler recorded 15 tackles in 11 games last season, but most noticeably came up with a game-clinching interception in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX.


Cowboys excited and cautious with return of LB Sean Lee
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:22 pm ET) Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL during organized team activities last year. This year, he has been limited to individual drills during non-padded parctices, per The Dallas Morning News.

Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said the team is happy to have Lee back but that they will pace him along slowly.

"He's a ball of energy and excitement and that represents who we are," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's moving well. We're just being smart as we get him ready to go. But he's got a lot of good quality work in."


Chiefs' Jeremy Maclin getting work in as a punt returner
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:59 pm ET) Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was the Chiefs' prized free-agent pickup this offseason, which makes it that much more intriguing that he lined up to return punts during practice on Thursday, per ESPN.com.

Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs, was a premier punt returner in college and played the role sparingly -- with little success -- with the Eagles.

Coach Andy Reid said the team is preparing Maclin just in case he's needed to return punts or kicks because of injuries.

We just want to make sure he is ready,’’ Reid said. “You have limited numbers that you can dress on game day, so you don’t know what rotation you are going to have there with the receivers and returners. So it gives you an opportunity to keep him fresh. We don’t work him every day like the other guys. It’s kind of an every other day deal, so just to make sure that he’s okay and can still do that, but he’s not going to be the primary guy doing it right now.”


Eagles CB Byron Maxwell guarantees trip to Super Bowl 50
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:40 pm ET) Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to make a Super Bowl run, he's appeared in two straight as a key member of the vaunted Seahawks defense.

Now, Maxwell is confident the Eagles will make a run to the big game and he will make his third consecutive appearance, per NFL.com.

"Because I've been there before," Maxwell said. "Knowing what it's like if we go that far. Because we're gonna go that far this year, meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We're gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them."

The Eagles haven't made a Super Bowl since their 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2004, but Maxwell didn't backtrack with his comments.

"You can take that as a guarantee," he said. "That's just me believing in my team and the product we're going to put out there on the field. I really do believe that. I have no choice but to think that way."

Maxwell, who signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games last season.


 
 
 
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