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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
Report: Titans, TE Craig Stevens agree to restructured contract
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) The Titans and tight end Craig Stevens agreed to a restructured contract Wednesday, The Tennessean reports.

Stevens had been scheduled to make $3.5 million in 2015, but he'll make a similar amount to his $1.6-million salary from 2014. He was placed on injured reserve after five games last season due to a thigh injury.


Vikings sign defensive end Caesar Rayford
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(4/1/2015) The Vikings signed defensive end Caesar Rayford on Wednesday, Rayford's representation, the Willis & Woy Sports group announced.

Rayford attended the NFL veterans combine, which gave him another look for NFL teams. Rayford was last in the CFL and the Arena League. He was last in the NFL in 2013 when he was with the Cowboys. 


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(4/1/2015) Linebacker Reggie Walker is all right with doing whatever the Broncos coaching staff asks of him. 

Walker, in an interview with DenverBroncos.com, said one of his biggest assets as a football player is the ability to play multiple positions as a linebacker. However, his primary position is at inside linebacker. 

"I’ve had to play in multiple positions throughout my football career; I can do a lot," Walker said. "I think I can do a lot very well. Hopefully I can come out here and show that and I’m going to be ready to compete."

Walker will earn his pay check on special teams. That was a role he played with the Chargers and one the Broncos will rely on him for as well. 

"Special teams is all a mindset," Walker said. "It’s all just about who’s willing to work harder and I’m going to work as hard as I can so I’ll be great at it."


Browns' Randy Starks wants to 'take care of the defensive line'
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(4/1/2015) One attribute that defensive lineman Randy Starks is looking to bring to the Browns is leadership. 

Coming from Miami, Starks is hoping to be an outspoken leader to the younger members on the defensive line. Starks added that he doesn't necessarily want to try and assert his authority over the whole defense. 

“I’m not trying to come here and take over the whole defense," Starks said on Sirius XM radio, via ClevelandBrowns.com. "I’m just trying to take care of the defensive line, and that will help take care of the defense itself. Because we have (Karlos) Dansby and Joe Haden to take care of their respective positions.”

Starks recorded 28 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in 15 games in 2014. In 11 seasons, Starks has only been to the playoffs twice. He's hoping that changes with the Browns. 

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Cardinals' Kareem Martin could move from DE to OLB
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"With his length, I wouldn't say he's (San Francisco’s) Aldon Smith at this point in his career, but he's got that body style and he's shown some stuff off the edge,” Arians said. “So we are going to look at him to see if he can play in space at all. That might be a spot where he can find his niche as a pass rusher.”

Martin actually spent one day during his rookie year in the outside linebackers meeting room before making the move to defensive end. When Martin worked with the scout team, he would occasionally work as an outside linebacker.

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The Ravens tried to restructure Ngata's contract but were unable to, and thus traded him to the Lions. Ngata is in the final year of a four-year, $48.5 million contract he signed after the 2011 season started. 

Ngata was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2006. In his nine-year career, he's totaled 445 tackles and 25.5 sacks. 


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(4/1/2015) The Ravens are working on a contract extension with right guard Marshal Yanda, owner Steve Bisciotti said on a conference call with PSL ticket holders. 

Yanda is slated to earn a $5.5 million base salary and carry an $8.45 million cap number heading into 2015, the final year of his contract. Yanda's regarded as one of the top interior linemen in the NFL, making him a prime candidate for the Ravens to work a new deal out with. 


Jets re-sign offensive tackle Ben Ijalana
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(4/1/2015) The Jets announced on Wednesday that they have re-signed offensive tackle Ben Ijalana

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(4/1/2015) The Jaguars hosted free-agent center Stefen Wisniewski on a visit on Wednesday, according to a report from the Florida Times-Union.

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Jets sign linebacker Jamari Lattimore
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In 2014, Lattimore started five games and totaled 35 tackles. 


 
 
 
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