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Fantasy & Reality: Back off from Brady?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Poor Tom Brady.

I don't mean poor Tom Brady -- the guy is making $60 milly over five seasons and is married to a supermodel. Plus, he has three rings and is a lock for the Hall of Fame. And he has great hair.

But I actually feel kinda sorta bad for him given all the stuff that's happened to his receiving corps this year. The year began with Aaron Hernandez out of the league and Rob Gronkowski on the sideline, then Shane Vereen got hurt, then Danny Amendola got hurt, then a couple of rookie receivers couldn't consistently catch the ball. Eventually Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen all came back and they played together ... for just over 14 quarters.

Losing Gronkowski is painful for Fantasy owners, but replacing him isn't a chore (aside from choking away the tears from cutting him from your seasonal roster). Aim for Dennis Pitta, Delanie Walker, Charles Clay, Garrett Graham or Jacob Tamme -- yes, in that order.

But Gronk's absence will cause plenty of strain on a Patriots offense that averaged 32.8 points per game with him in the lineup for six. Without him the Pats averaged 20.8 points per game through the first six weeks of the season ... but did come through with 27 points on the Browns in a quarter and a half vs. Cleveland in Week 14. Of course, an onside-kick recovery and a questionable pass interference penalty on the Browns helped that number along.

Before Gronkowski came back, Brady had one game with over 20 Fantasy points in his first six. His first two back with Gronk were awful, but then he had three with 20-plus Fantasy points in a four-game span. You'd have thought Brady would have gone back to being less than stellar without Gronk last week at Cleveland, but but he managed to fire up the offense around him and with a big dose of Vereen managed to post another plus-20 effort. Gronk had two catches for 32 yards before messing up his knee, barely contributing to Brady's performance.

The impact of Gronk
Pct. of Brady's numbers in his
six full games with Gronkowski.
Completions: 24.7%
Targets: 26.7%
Yards: 31.3%
TDs: 4/11 (36.4%)

It's going to take the rest of the Patriots offense stepping up like this for Brady to remain a Fantasy hero, and that's asking a lot. More than a third of Brady's 418 yards last week came from Vereen, who posted a career-high 153 yards with 126 of them coming after the hit on Gronk and 50 of them coming on a bomb. It seems unlikely that Vereen will get those numbers every week. Amendola was another clutch contributor, hauling in the game-winning score with just under a minute left last week. Amendola has two touchdowns over nine games and while he has two games with over 100 yards, they are also his only two where he has more than 55 yards. His targets seem to pale in comparison to those of Edelman, who has been reliable for Brady. Over the last three weeks, Edelman has at least nine targets per game and has delivered double-digit Fantasy points, be it because of a touchdown and nominal yardage, a lot of yardage without a touchdown, or both a lot of yards with a score or two.

It's been Edelman's bump in production that has especially made Brady a threat, but much of that was because defenses were focused on Gronkowski and made Edelman less of a priority as a short- to mid-range receiver. That's going to go away -- it's going to be much easier to put the clamps on Edelman and Amendola without a third threat roaming 15 yards downfield. Now, the Patriots might trot out a young receiver like Josh Boyce or Kenbrell Thompkins to be that third threat, but defenses won't focus so much on stopping them like they did Gronkowski. The Patriots tried to cultivate those talents already this season and mostly failed. Defenses will also be far more cognizant of Vereen being a regular target for Brady.

Making matters worse are the actual opponents on the horizon for the Patriots: the Dolphins and Ravens (both on the road). Both are in the Top 10 in least Fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks -- the Dolphins have allowed three quarterbacks to top 20-plus Fantasy points and six to under 10 points while the Ravens have yielded four passers to go over 20 points and four have gone under 10. They're not going to make matters easy for Brady.

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This is why I think we'll see the Patriots rediscover their run game, especially this week against a poor run defense like the Dolphins. While such a strategy might lead to a win, it won't necessarily lead to big stats for Brady. We've seen him throw at least 41 passes in each of the last three weeks and the big numbers have followed. Though Brady is capable of delivering a good stat line without throwing a ton of passes (see Week 9), it's less likely he'll be great if he's handing off more than chucking it long.

Now, here's the thing -- loyal readers will remember my breakdown of Brady from before Week 9 when I discouraged people from starting him against the Steelers and Panthers over a three-week span. That didn't work out so well, as Brady has his best game of the season at home against Pittsburgh and nearly delivered another strong performance at Carolina. I'll be the first to admit that you're playing with fire when you consider benching Brady, but after seeing Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck crash and burn without their most reliable receiver and after seeing Brady fare unfavorably without Gronk through the first six weeks of the season, it's not exactly a daring call to make.

Who's better than Brady?

So if you're going to bench Brady you darn sure better have someone solid to go with in his place. This is not the time to gamble on a flash in the pan or a weak-armed guy with a favorable matchup -- if you're going to take a big risk you might as well stick with Brady. But if you can avoid the big risk with a reputable alternative then it's worth doing. Here are five quarterbacks and a bonus duo I'd start over Brady.

Nick Foles, Eagles (at Vikings, vs. Bears)
Pretty much cinch matchups for one of the league's hottest passers. Minnesota has allowed a quarterback to get 22 or more Fantasy points in seven straight -- and that's with cornerback Xavier Rhodes playing (he might be out this week). Statistically, the Bears have been strong against the pass but the Eagles scheme combined with Chicago's leaky defense makes Foles a favorite.

Josh McCown/Jay Cutler, Bears (at Browns, at Eagles)
If Foles is the best rags-to-riches Fantasy quarterback this year, McCown has to be right on his tail. Cleveland and Philadelphia have good and bad parts to their respective secondaries, but neither one should give the Chicago passing game much trouble. It's just important to keep tabs on Cutler's health since the Bears have said he will play when he's ready. Cutler and McCown have a combined nine games with 20-plus Fantasy points, combining for a 10th in the second game in which Cutler got hurt.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs. Bengals, at Packers)
Like Brady, Big Ben has been hot over the last three weeks. Unlike Brady, he has his full allotment of receivers. He also has two really nice matchups against suspect secondaries. I know the Bengals have been solid for much of the year, but they lost another top corner to injury last week and Roethlisberger should have an easier time connecting downfield.

Philip Rivers, Chargers (at Broncos, vs. Raiders)
I think Rivers is going to have to throw a ton this week against the Broncos, giving him a chance at some really nice numbers. Trusting quarterbacks on Thursdays isn't normally advised but this late in the season every defense is tired in every spot and offenses should get away with what they do best. For the Chargers that means leaning on Rivers, who follows up a tough matchup at Denver with a great matchup at home against the Raiders.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers (at Buccaneers, vs. Falcons)
There might not be a better pair of matchups for a quarterback in Weeks 15 and 16 than what Kaepernick has. The Bucs have allowed multiple passing touchdowns to eight of their last nine opponents and the Falcons have allowed multiple passing touchdowns to 13 of the 14 quarterbacks they've faced. Michael Crabtree is back and getting his legs underneath him, Anquan Boldin has started to deliver on a more consistent basis and Vernon Davis remains a dangerous weapon.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins (Week 15 vs. Patriots)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Titans
(Week 16 at Jaguars)
I wanted to come up with a sneaky alternative involving quarterbacks owned in less than half of CBSSports.com leagues. Tannehill takes on the Patriots, who have allowed 30-plus points to three of the last five quarterbacks they've taken on. Fitzpatrick will play at the Jaguars next week, and they've allowed 24-plus Fantasy points to five of the last six quarterbacks they've faced, including 27 to Fitzpatrick in Week 10.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Montee Ball shouldn't be trusted. Ball is one of 10 running backs to post at least 10 Fantasy points in three of his last four games. Ball has had at least 10 touches in each of his last four games. The Chargers have allowed at least one rushing touchdown in five of their last six games and running backs tend to shine on Thursday nights. Ball has Top 15 potential this week.

Reality: Dennis Pitta is Joe Flacco's security blankie. I love it that Pitta was targeted on a third of his snaps, catching roughly half and scoring a touchdown. Seven of the 11 targets came on third or fourth down (clutch plays) and a pair of targets were in the red zone (the Ravens attempted six red-zone passes on 11 red-zone snaps in the game). I don't know how ready I am to trust Pitta in a matchup against a Lions defense that's been solid against tight ends, but I do believe Flacco will continue to lean on him.

Fantasy: Andrew Luck has no one to throw to. Back in the summer I was enamored with a receiver in Buffalo named Da'Rick Rogers, that is until he got cut. The Colts stuffed him on their practice roster, activating him recently. Desperate to get their passing game going, they gave him a handful of assignments last week and he dazzled against a good Bengals defense. Rogers went over the middle, sped past defensive backs and found ways to get open. He should lock up the starting job opposite T.Y. Hilton soon enough, though LaVon Brazill has more experience in the Colts offense and could keep Rogers relegated to three-receiver sets. But if Luck is throwing the ball then I like Rogers' (and Brazill's) chances of being effective. It's just a matter of trusting them in Fantasy; I trust Luck completely against a disinterested Texans defense at home.

Reality: I'm still starting Riley Cooper. For the third week in a row Cooper didn't deliver big stats, but it's the third week in a row he's been targeted deep and in the end zone. Eventually it's going to click. I'd say a matchup indoors against a beleaguered Vikings defense will give him the chance to cash in.

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
Texans waive DT Brandon Ivory
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:13 pm ET) The Texans waived rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory on Thursday, according to ESPN.com

Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just one day ago. Ivory's agent Jeff Guerriero said Ivory is not guilty of the charge. 

"I spoke to Brandon he is not guilty and his name will be cleared of all charges," Guerriero said. 


Chargers TE Antonio Gates suspended 4 games for PED use
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, the team announced. 

It's unknown at this time what drug Gates tested positive for. Gates, in a statement, said he was unaware that he took a banned substance

"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them.

"As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me."

With Gates out for four games, the Chargers will turn to Ladarius Green as the team's top tight end, though it was expected for Green to continue getting more looks in the passing game. Green is entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

The Chargers expressed disappointment in Gates for his suspension but plans to stick with the longtime veteran through the suspension. 

"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the Chargers stated. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5. While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."  


Packers' Datone Jones out 1 game for substance-abuse violation
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:01 pm ET) Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones will be suspended for one game for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to NFL.com. 

Jones will miss Green Bay's season-opener against the Bears. In 2014, Jones totaled 22 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 13 games played. 


Cowboys LB Rolando McClain suspended four games for 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:56 pm ET) The Cowboys announced that linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

McClain hasn't been able to participate much in offseason workouts due to going under offseason knee surgery. McClain will be eligible to practice in training camp and is expected to be healthy by then. 

"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake. I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error," McClain said in a statement, via CSN Bay Area. "I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.

In 2014, McClain, who had previously retired twice before being traded from the Ravens to the Cowboys, totaled 81 tackles and a sack in 13 games played.


Jets DL Sheldon Richardson suspended four games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement via the Jets, per Fox Sports. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field.”

Richardson, who was a 2013 first-round pick, is entering his third season in the NFL. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

He has totaled 84 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks in 32 career games. He also has one safety.


Texans DT Brandon Ivory arrested on burglary charge
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Texans defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was arrested Wednesday morning in Alabama and charged with first-degree burglary, according to a Tuscaloosa Police Department report obtained by SportingNews.com.

Ivory and another man were allegedly involved in a home burglary when the two entered the residence by kicking open the back door and then demanding money from the residents. The two stole money and two Ipads from the residence. Ivory and the other suspect were arrested at their apartment shortly after the incident with the stolen money and property.


Embattled Brandon Spikes pleads guilty to leaving scene of crash
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Former Patriots and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes has pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a recent car crash and has received a fine and year of probation, per WBZ, which is further reporting that he has lost his license and will be forced to attend a driver's safety class.

Spikes has lost far more than his license. He has lost his livelihood, having been cut by New England for hitting another car and abandoning his vehicle on the highway. He later told the police that he had hit a deer.

No other teams have been rumored to be targeting Spikes for the coming season.


Terrelle Pryor ready to embrace new role with Browns
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Terrelle Pryor once declared that he could not play football if he could not play quarterback.

Reality has since set in.

Pryor has been cut twice and is now playing on a Cleveland Browns team desperate for a quarterback, but apparently not desperate enough to give him a shot. He is instead embracing what he is calling a "slash-player" role.

"I'm going to give (it) a chance," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I just want to play football. I'm a playmaker, and I believe if I can touch the ball, I can go to the house, especially if I have space. This should definitely open up some opportunities."

Pryor has already taken the first step by contacting Steelers receiving stud Antonio Brown and making plans to work out with him and Randy Moss so they can teach him the nuances of the position.

He also figures there's another reason he's ahead of the game.

"The thing that helps me is that I played quarterback, and I know what the quarterback wants," Pryor said.


Lions new DT Haloti Ngata too busy to think about new contract
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had his contract in mind in his last days with the Ravens, but he's too busy to think about it now that he's been traded to the Lions.

Ngata admitted that he suspected a deal could take place.

"The closer we got to free agency, I thought it could be a possibility," he told Monday Morning Quarterback. "It didn't surprise me ... since we weren't getting closer to any kind of contract stuff, I just figured there were a lot of things that could happen. I definitely started to have a trade in my mind as a possibility."

Ngata added that he's not thinking about a contract extension with Detroit.

"I'm just trying to get to know my teammates, get my playbook down, and my technique and terminology," he said.


Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon claims he'd pick himself in Fantasy
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon doesn't have a Fantasy football team, but if he did...

"If ... I could take myself, I would," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Never mind that Adrian Peterson has returned to the backfield. Never mind that Peterson has traditionally not yielded many carries to teammates. In 2012, for instance, he totaled 348 of his team's 401 rushing attempts.

The Vikings, however, are expected to use a more balanced approach in 2015. And McKinnon, who flashed as a starter with Peterson sidelined last season, is feeling dandy after undergoing lower back surgery in December.

"Two hundred percent," he declared in regard to his health. "If there is a 300, I feel 300. It's all good."

McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry a year ago, which buoyed his confidence.


 
 
 
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