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Playoff Extra: Playoff Challenge strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The regular season may have ended, but your Fantasy fix can continue for a few more weeks. You can still build a team, set a lineup and watch your guys rack up stats all the way through the playoffs.

We're talking about the CBSSports.com Playoff Challenge, which is a Fantasy game you can play all the way up to Super Bowl XLVIII. It's a fun way to watch the playoffs and still compete.

After you sign up here for a team, you can compete for a cash prize or against your friends for free. You can also try and challenge the CBSSports.com Fantasy staff by joining our group, where you will play against me, Dave Richard, Nando Di Fino, Adam Aizer and others for bragging rights.

The rules of the game are simple. You have a lineup of QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, TE, K and DST with 300 units to spend on your roster. Throughout the playoffs you are allowed eight transactions, and the more you have at the end the better.

Your first objective in setting a lineup should be to pick your Super Bowl matchup and figure out how the teams will get there. You want players on your Playoff Challenge roster who will play at least two games with the chance to make it three or even four.

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Picking the right team from the Wild Card round -- last year Baltimore played four games to win Super Bowl XLVII -- and hoping they get hot is crucial. History tells us that at least one team that played on Wild Card weekend has made the Super Bowl in each of the last three postseasons and seven of the last eight. I like the 49ers and Eagles from the NFC and the Bengals from the AFC as teams that could make a run.

From there you can set your lineup, and hopefully the players you choose can continue on through the Super Bowl. Below is a look at a few different teams to help you with some lineup suggestions.

For my playoff predictions, I expect Indianapolis and Cincinnati to win the Wild Card round in the AFC and San Francisco and Philadelphia to advance in the NFC. Then it gets interesting. Denver should beat Indianapolis, but the Bengals already beat the Patriots once this season and could be a surprise winner in the Divisional Round at New England. Whoever wins should lose at Denver, and the Broncos should advance to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, San Francisco could pull off the upset in Seattle in the Divisional Round, and Philadelphia might be able to win at Carolina. Most likely, the Seahawks will win at home and advance to the Super Bowl, but I'll take the early gamble on the 49ers and Eagles based on the upside for the overall Fantasy production.

It should be a fun postseason, and we hope you can enjoy it as a Fantasy owner. You might be able to win some money along the way or just bragging rights against your friends or even us at CBSSports.com.

My potential Team 1

My Team No. 1
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN 49
Donald Brown, RB, IND 48
Frank Gore, RB, SF 55
Anquan Boldin, WR, SF 36
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND 30
Vernon Davis, TE, SF 38
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Bengals DST 28
Total: 299

Here's an example of one team I like based on the 49ers. Vernon Davis is the first player I picked because of his potential and recent postseason success -- along with wanting a dominant tight end. Last year he had 12 catches for 254 yards and a touchdown in three playoff games, and the year before he had 10 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns in two postseason outings. He's also dominated Green Bay in the past three meetings with 10 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns, and the Packers have allowed a tight end to score in three of their past four games.

Frank Gore, like Davis, has a good history against the Packers. In his past three meetings with Green Bay, Gore has at least 12 Fantasy points in a standard league with a touchdown in each game and two 100-yard outings. The Packers have also allowed a running back to reach double digits in Fantasy points in three consecutive games and five of the past six.

Anquan Boldin also did well against the Packers in Week 1 with 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown on 17 targets. He has at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league in six of his past seven games, and Green Bay has allowed a receiver to reach double digits in Fantasy points in three consecutive games.

Andy Dalton actually finished the season as the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He comes into the playoffs with four games in a row with at least 23 Fantasy points, and the Chargers have allowed five quarterbacks to score at least 21 points on the road this season. They held Dalton to 11 Fantasy points in Week 13, but that was at San Diego.

T.Y. Hilton was held to five catches for 52 yards at Kansas City in Week 16, but he's coming off a monster game in Week 17 against Jacksonville with 11 catches for 155 yards on 15 targets. He has at least seven Fantasy points in five of eight home games, and the Chiefs have allowed a receiver to reach double digits in Fantasy points in three of their past four road games.

Donald Brown just dominated the Chiefs in Week 16 with 10 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City has allowed a running back to reach double digits in Fantasy points in seven of the past eight games, and Brown has scored in consecutive games and reached nine Fantasy points in three of his past five.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: eight

My potential Team 2

My Team No. 2
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN 49
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI 64
Donald Brown, RB, IND 48
Anquan Boldin, WR, SF 36
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND 30
Vernon Davis, TE, SF 38
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Eagles DST 20
Total: 300

This team has a little bit more of an Eagles feel to it with LeSean McCoy, Alex Henery and the Eagles DST. I'm counting on Philadelphia to stay hot offensively against New Orleans in the Wild Card round with the Saints continuing their road woes.

McCoy had double digits in Fantasy points in six of eight home games, and he closed the season with 70 points in his final three games in Philadelphia against Arizona, Detroit and Chicago. It's a great scenario because the Saints have struggled to contain running backs on the road. New Orleans has played road games at Tampa Bay, Chicago, New England, the Jets, Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina, and Doug Martin, Matt Forte, Stevan Ridley, Chris Ivory, Steven Jackson, Zac Stacy and DeAngelo Williams each scored at least nine Fantasy points. Only Marshawn Lynch failed to have a productive game against this Saints defense when they were on the road, but McCoy should come through.

The benefit of this team is if the Eagles and 49ers win as expected, then I'll have more options moving on to the next round with a better variation of guys on the roster.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: eight

Team Peyton Manning

Team Peyton
Peyton Manning, QB, IND 76
Montee Ball, RB, DEN 21
Donald Brown, RB, IND 48
Eric Decker, WR, DEN 45
Wes Welker, WR, DEN 41
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR 24
Mike Nugent, K, CIN 17
Broncos DST 27
Total: 300

This team is an example of building around the No. 1 quarterback in Peyton Manning, and I used a heavy Broncos slant with Montee Ball, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and the Broncos DST. If you believe Denver will make it to the Super Bowl then why not go all in. The only downside with this roster is getting minimal production from the Wild Card round with only Brown and Mike Nugent playing this weekend.

If you don't want to use Manning you can substitute any quarterback since he's the most expensive at 76 units. Drew Brees (73 units), Aaron Rodgers (70), Nick Foles (68) and Tom Brady (66) are the next quarterbacks in order, and if you downgrade from Manning you'll have more units to upgrade at other positions. But Manning only had two games at home with fewer than 21 Fantasy points, and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Denver.

Ball obviously struggled down the stretch, but his price fit with this roster. The Broncos will lean on Knowshon Moreno in the postseason, but Ball could still get goal-line touches. One different running back duo I considered for this roster was BenJarvus Green-Ellis (37) and Danny Woodhead (34) instead of Ball and Brown, but there are a number of combinations you can come up with if Manning is your guy.

Decker was a star to close the season with eight touchdowns in his final five games, and he scored at least 17 Fantasy points in three of those outings. Welker (concussion) was absent for three of those games, and he's expected back for the playoffs. But we don't see any of the AFC teams slowing down Denver's passing game in the playoffs barring something unforeseen. And Decker and Welker scored at least nine Fantasy points in the same game three times during the season.

When you go big on someone like Manning, you'll have to sacrifice at a spot or two, and we downgrade at tight end from Davis to Greg Olsen. The Panthers wouldn't surprise me if they were one-and-done in the playoffs or went to the Super Bowl, so Olsen is somewhat of a gamble. But after Davis he's the next best thing, especially for the price, since he scored at least eight Fantasy points in eight games during the year.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: two

Team Running Back

Team Running Back
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN 49
Marshawn Lynch, RB, PHI 65
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI 64
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND 30
Anquan Boldin, WR, SF 36
Zach Miller, TE, SEA 14
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Broncos DST 27
Total: 300

Many of you like to load up on running backs in any Fantasy format, so here's the team for you. McCoy clearly has a great opportunity for at least two games, and Lynch could lead Seattle to the Super Bowl. So let's build a team around these two elite options. You can also swap out McCoy for Jamaal Charles since they are same price at 64 units. You can also get Moreno at 62, which might give you more value at a lower price, and the Broncos definitely have a great chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Lynch could have a tough road to the Super Bowl with potential matchups against San Francisco and Carolina (we'd love to see him face New Orleans in the Divisional Round), but we'd still gamble on him if you believe in the Seahawks going all the way. After all, he scored 43 Fantasy points against the 49ers in two games this season and has double digits in points in five consecutive meetings with San Francisco. As for the Panthers, they held Lynch to 17 carries for 43 yards and two catches for 9 yards in Week 1, but that was in Carolina. Lynch averaged 16 Fantasy points at home this season, and we wouldn't shy away from him in any matchup, especially if he faces the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

I'm sticking with Dalton, Hilton and Boldin here based on their Wild Card matchups, and we'll go with Zach Miller at tight end with this team based on value. He only scored double digits in Fantasy points three times, but he could give you three games if Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl. He also scored four touchdowns at home this season.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: five

Team Wide Receiver

Team Wide Receiver
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN 49
LeGarrette Blount, RB, NE 41
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, CIN 37
Randall Cobb, WR, GB 36
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND 30
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR 24
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Bengals DST 28
Total: 300

Now that we showed you a team with two top-tier running backs, we'll go with a team slanted toward two upper-echelon receivers. Demaryius Thomas is the No. 1 receiver at 47 units, and to get away from using Decker or Welker, we went with A.J. Green here as the second option.

I was able to pair those two with Davis and Dalton, which I like, and the running backs have potential based on value in LeGarrette Blount and Green-Ellis. Blount closed the season with 40 carries for 265 yards and four touchdowns in his final two games against Baltimore and Buffalo, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in three of his final five outings. He's clearly the running-downs rusher to use for the Patriots over Ridley right now.

As for Green-Ellis, he sets up as a nice sleeper in the first two rounds based on potential opponents. He had 13 Fantasy points at San Diego in Week 1, and if Cincinnati faces New England in the Divisional Round as expected, he also had 12 Fantasy points against the Patriots in Week 5.

Thomas doesn't get enough credit for being an elite Fantasy receiver, but he had double digits in Fantasy points in 11 games with six 100-yard outings and 14 touchdowns. He finished the year 92 catches for 1,430 yards, and he should be a beast in the playoffs.

Green also had double digits in Fantasy points in 11 games with six 100-yard outings and 11 touchdowns. He finished the year with 98 catches for 1,426 yards, and he had five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown at San Diego in the first meeting.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: five

Team Green Bay

Team Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB 70
Eddie Lacy, RB, GB 58
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, CIN 37
Randall Cobb, WR, GB 36
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND 30
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR 24
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Bengals DST 28
Total: 298

I expect the 49ers to beat the Packers this weekend, but if you like Green Bay then here's a team for you with Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb. The Packers, like the 49ers, can easily make a run now that Rodgers is back after his seven-game absence from a broken collarbone.

Rodgers played well at Chicago in his first game back in Week 17 with 20 Fantasy points, and he has a good history against the 49ers. He had 30 Fantasy points in Week 1, and he scored at least 22 points in both meetings in 2012. The 49ers have allowed 755 passing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in their final two games against Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer this season, so Rodgers could have the chance to shine.

Lacy also is worth consideration since he had a touchdown against San Francisco in Week 1, and the 49ers have allowed a running back to reach double digits in Fantasy points in two of their final four games. Lacy has scored double digits in points in four games in a row to close the season.

Cobb, like Rodgers, was a key cog in the win against the Bears. Playing in his first game back after being out 10 games with a knee injury, Cobb had two catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns. He had seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers in Week 1, and he had 14 catches for 101 yards in two meetings with San Francisco last year.

Aside from the three Packers, we'll stick with Green-Ellis, Hilton, Olsen, Henery and the Bengals. If Green Bay wins, you'll be in good shape with three of the Packers best players moving forward.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: seven

Team Seattle

Team Seattle
Russell Wilson, QB, SEA 60
Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA 65
Shane Vereen, RB, NE 45
Julian Edelman, WR, NE 38
Golden Tate, WR, SEA 26
Zach Miller, TE, SEA 14
Mike Nugent, K, CIN 17
Seahawks DST 31
Total: 296

We gave you a team slanted toward the Broncos with Manning, so we'll focus on a team here with the NFC favorite in the Seahawks. We'll supplement Russell Wilson, Lynch, Golden Tate, Miller and the Seahawks DST with a couple of Patriots in Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman since New England can also reach the Super Bowl as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Wilson struggled to close the season with 17 Fantasy points or less in four consecutive games, but he did have four home games this year with at least 22 Fantasy points. If you believe in Seattle then hopefully he can get hot for the playoffs and overcome his lackluster play down the stretch.

I went with Tate over Doug Baldwin since he's two units cheaper at 26, but you can roll with either Seattle receiver here. I still view Tate as the No. 1 option, and he had eight catches for 129 yards and a touchdown on nine targets in the season-finale against St. Louis. Baldwin had just one catch in his final two outings, but he scored in three of his final five home games this year.

Vereen came back from a broken wrist in Week 11 and finished the season with at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league in four of seven games. If the Patriots get pass-happy in the playoffs, Vereen will play a prominent role.

The same goes for Edelman, who had double digits in Fantasy points in four of his final six games, with at least seven points in each outing over that span. He's clearly Brady's go-to receiver with Rob Gronkowski (knee) out.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: one

Team Dave Richard

Team Dave Richard
Nick Foles, QB, PHI 68
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI 64
Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN 46
DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI 41
Riley Cooper, WR, PHI 34
Brent Celek, TE, PHI 11
Alex Henery, K, PHI 15
Eagles DST 20
Total: 299

Without getting into specifics on the players, I wanted to show you a strategy my colleague, Dave Richard, plans to use for the Playoff Challenge. He's going all in on the Eagles making a run, but he has a backup in case they lose.

He loaded up on Philadelphia with Foles, McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek, Henery and the Eagles DST. He used Giovani Bernard to round out his roster, and if those teams advance he's in good shape for the Divisional Round.

But if the Eagles and Bengals get upset in the Wild Card round and he has to use all eight transactions then he plans to go all in on Denver. His Divisional Round lineup would be Manning, Moreno, Thomas, Decker, Jacob Tamme and the Broncos DST supplemented with Brandon Bolden and Graham Gano to make the units work.

Dave would be in great shape if the Eagles make a run to the Super Bowl, but he would be done after the Divisional Round if the Eagles and Broncos are eliminated. This is one boom or bust strategy to follow if you like one team, like Dave does with the Eagles, to go all the way.

Potential transactions for the Divisional Round: eight

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg .

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Player News
Texans LB Jadeveon Clowney 'somewhat' affected by knee injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:12 am ET) Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney told the Houston Chronicle following a Week 12 loss to Cincinnati that he's still being affected by a knee injury. Clowney finished with three tackles, including one for a loss on Sunday.

"Somewhat," Clowney said. "Some things are holding me back still but I'm just out here trying to do what I can do and have fun. You never know if you’re going to have an injury or not coming into the league. So when that happened to me, it was a setback. I'm just trying to do everything I need to do to get back to where I need to be to help the team out."


Good luck with Michael Floyd
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:07 am ET) Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd caught two passes in Week 11, which at face value would give no one the impression he was back to form. But because both happened to go for touchdowns, including one of more than 40 yards, some of his owners couldn't be talked out of starting him Week 12 at Seattle. And those owners are filled with remorse right now.

That's because, with backup Drew Stanton again under center for the Cardinals, Floyd went without a single catch. He was targeted twice but failed to connect -- and with fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sidelined by a a sprained knee, no less.

That's the lowest of lows for him in what has been by and large a disappointing season. With this performance, he's averaging 2.1 catches for 28.9 yards over his last seven games. He's had a few touchdowns during that stretch to soften the blow, but ultimately, all they've done is given his owners false hope.

Unlike Fitzgerald, Floyd's production didn't improve for those five games when starting quarterback Carson Palmer was back from injury, and now Palmer is out for the year. Between Stanton's shortcomings and John Brown's emergence, you shouldn't be hoping for any sort of rebound from Floyd.


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(12:58 am ET) Giants kicker Josh Brown didn't attempt a field goal in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12 but managed to successfully convert all four of his extra-point tries.

It's the fifth time this season Brown hasn't received a field-goal attempt, and he's managed multiple attempts just twice in his 11 games this year. Brown will square off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


Keenan Allen turning over a new leaf?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:56 am ET) For the second time this season, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen topped 100 yards in a game Week 12 against St. Louis, and for the second time this season, he found the end zone, scoring on a 29-yard catch in the fourth quarter. It was the first time he did both in the same game, which was the kind of production Fantasy owners expected from him coming into the season.

So is he finally delivering on his potential? Oh, who knows?

Here are the positives for Allen: With another nine targets in Week 12, he has averaged 10.8 over his last five games, a clear improvement from his first six, and his primary competition for red-zone looks, tight end Antonio Gates, has been conspicuously absent the last three weeks.

Here are the negatives for Allen: Even with all those extra targets, he has still averaged just 69.0 yards over his last five games, and quarterback Philip Rivers has stopped throwing touchdown passes not just to Gates but in general.

I have enough confidence in Rivers and the Chargers offense as a whole to keep Allen on my roster, but I'm not activating him based on this performance.


Giants' Rueben Randle paces secondary targets in Week 12
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle caught all three of his targets for 36 yards in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Eli Manning was locked in on rookie Odell Beckham (10 catches, 146 yards, two TDs) and running back Rashad Jennings (eight catches, 68 yards), and Randle was one of the quarterback's six other targeted receivers to split 11 catches. Tight end Daniel Fells also secured three receptions for 35 yards, while tight end Larry Donnell managed just two receptions for 24 yards. Wide receiver Preston Parker caught one of his three targets for 16 yards, while tight end Adrien Robinson caught his only target for a one-yard touchdown.

Randle, Parker and the team's TE corps should continue to play a complementary role behind Beckham moving forward. The Giants will take on the Jaguars in Week 13.


Giants RB Andre Williams scores touchdown in Week 12 loss
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(12:50 am ET) Giants running back Andre Williams rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown and added a 12-yard catch in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Williams was out-touched 27-11 by starter Rashad Jennings but managed to bounce a carry to the right side late in the first half for a three-yard score. The touchdown was his third in his last four games, but he's still hovering around 3.0 yards per carry for the season. Williams will square off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


Giants RB Rashad Jennings totals 120 yards in Week 12 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:47 am ET) Giants running back Rashad Jennings rushed for just 52 yards on 19 carries but caught eight of his 10 targets for 68 yards in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Jennings drew the start and out-touched rookie Andre Williams 27-11 but watched his teammate score from three yards out in the second quarter. Despite averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, Williams was able to stay involved by being the second-most targeted receiver on the team. Though Jennings hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3, his total yardage represented his best performance since rushing for 176 yards in his third game of the year. Jennings is set to face the Jaguars in Week 13.


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(12:45 am ET) Even though Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was more effective than Branden Oliver in his return from a shoulder injury, he split carries almost evenly with his replacement Week 11 against Oakland. That wasn't so much the case Week 12 against St. Louis, though, when Mathews took his first carry 11 yards and never looked back en route to 105. He also scored a touchdown on a 32-yard run in the third quarter.

He injured his shoulder on that play, which was a big reason why Oliver got the six carries he did, but Mathews returned and still finished with twice as many. Imagine how many yards he would have had if he had gotten 15-to-18 carries.

If Mathews had struggled to keep up with Oliver after the long layoff, the Chargers might continue to ease him in, but since he's been far and away the more effective of the two in two games back, he looks like he'll take the job and run with it, reducing Oliver to just a handcuff option in Fantasy.

Mathews falls a little short of must-start status with an especially tough matchup Week 13 at Baltimore, but for most owners, he's probably still worth running out there.


Giants QB Eli Manning tallies 338 yards, three TDs in Week 12
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(12:42 am ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 29 of his 40 pass attempts for 338 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Manning hooked up with rookie Odell Beckham on a pair of touchdowns in the first half, including an outstanding one-handed, 43-yard catch that will certainly find its way on every Play of the Year list. The Giants took a 21-10 lead into halftime before the Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the third quarter. Manning was able to bring his team back by connecting with Adrien Robinson from one-yard out with just three minutes remaining, but the Giants defense was unable to stop the Cowboys from responding one more time.

Manning's one interception came on an overthrow to a wide-open receiver who looked like he had a clear lane to the end zone with an on-target throw. Even with that mistake, it was an excellent rebound performance after throwing five interceptions in his previous game. He's set to face off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


Cowboys K Dan Bailey scores seven points vs. Giants
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(12:37 am ET) Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey kicked four extra points and made his only field-goal attempt in his team's 31-28 win over the Giants in Week 12.

Bailey put his team on the board with a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter, but the Cowboys were able to reach the end zone four times thereafter and needed all four touchdowns in a high-scoring game against their division rivals. Bailey had missed field goals in each of his last two games coming into the Sunday night matchup. He's set to face the Eagles at home Thursday.


 
 
 
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