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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
Panthers claim OT Jonathan Martin off waivers
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4:27 pm ET) The Panthers announced Friday they have signed tackle Jonathan Martin off waivers, one day after the lineman was released by the 49ers. 

Martin played in 15 games with San Francisco last season, starting nine of them. Prior to that, he was a member Dolphins before being traded for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2014. The 25-year-old has started 32 of the 38 games he's played in. 

"Jonathan brings quality experience to our offensive line, having started 32 games in his career at both tackle spots," Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said. 


Panthers sign WR Jarrett Boykin to one-year deal
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(2:22 pm ET) The Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Jarrett Boykin to a one-year deal Friday, per David Newton of ESPN.com. 

The 25-year-old receiver had a big campaign with the Packers in 2013, catching 49 passes for 681 yards, but fell out of favor last season, grabbing just three balls for 23 yards in 13 games. Boykin has 57 career receptions in three seasons, all with the Packers. 


Bears sign CB Alan Ball to one-year deal
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(12:44 pm ET) The Bears have signed cornerback Alan Ball to a one-year contract on Friday, per the team's official website.

Ball, 29, spent the last two seasons with the Jaguars, but was limited to only seven games in 2014 due to a biceps injury. He racked up 59 total tackles, 17 passes deflected and three interceptions over that span. He has played eight NFL seasons with the Cowboys, Texans and Jags.


Titans sign CB Brandon Harris to one-year deal
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) The Titans have signed cornerback Brandon Harris to a one-year contract on Friday, per the team's official website. Harris played 11 games in 2014, his first season with the Titans. He finished with 11 combined tackles and three pass deflections last season.

Redskins' Thompson, Redd to compete for third-down back role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week at the NFL owners' meetings running back Chris Thompson will get the first chance to secure third-down responsibilities, according to The Washington Post. Silas Redd will also get consideration for the role of third-down back.

“Chris [Thompson] came in last year at the end and did some things, and we’re hoping that he can come back and stay healthy in the offseason and give us a little jolt back there,” Gruden said. “And Silas Redd will get every chance to do some things also.”

Although, the Redskins could look to bring in some competition before training camp begins.

“I also think that at the running back position in the draft, there’s a ton of them,” Gruden said. “It’s a very deep running back draft in my opinion, and we’re excited to add another piece at some point, hopefully. We have seven picks. Hopefully one of them will be a running back, or a free agent to compete. There are some good free agents that haven’t been signed yet. But, giving Chris an opportunity, Silas, Alfred (Morris), that’s where it starts. And we’ll add some more later on for competition.”


Falcons could bring in Matt Schaub to vie for backup QB role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Falcons coach Dan Quinn is not ruling out bringing back former Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub to compete for the backup role behind starter Matt Ryan, per ESPN.

"Schaub is certainly somebody that we could [add]," Quinn said. "As we get through it, we'll let you know if we go down that road."

The 34-year-old Schaub was released by the Raiders in mid-March. T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree are the other quarterbacks on the Falcons' roster.


Panthers' Rivera expecting Stephen Hill to contribute in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:45 am ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes wide receiver Stephen Hill is ready to make an impact in 2015 after spending the 2014 season on the practice squad, per ESPN.

“Very much so," Rivera said Wednesday during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. “He’s a guy we feel has an opportunity. We’re very excited about [seeing] Stephen during OTAs and minicamp.

“With his size (6-4, 215) and speed and his ability to get vertical, if he can assimilate to what we do -- and I think he will; he seems to be a very smart man -- he might be a guy that has an opportunity to contribute for us."

Rivera felt Hill's year on the practice squad was beneficial after the 2012 second-round pick failed to live up to expectations during his tenure with the Jets. 

“I thought it was a good opportunity to take a step back and take a break," Rivera said. “The thing I liked about Stephen was how he contributed to our football team’s success. He came in. He had been a second-round pick. He had no assumptions, no entitlement.

“He ran all the scout teams for us. He ran them hard. Gave us great looks, which is what makes us excited 'cause you watch a guy perform who could very easily dog it, and he didn’t. And you saw him grow. You saw him make catches. You saw him get comfortable in his own skin again."


Terence Newman reunites with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota
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(10:16 am ET) The Vikings announced Friday they signed cornerback Terence Newman, who played for coach Mike Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati.

“That’s the biggest thing. He can still play. He came in the league later. I think he was 25 when he came in,” Zimmer said, per the team's official website. “He struggled a little bit in Dallas and then played great in Cincinnati. Last year, he didn’t play quite as good, so seemingly with me, we get things fixed a little bit. I really respect him, and I think he really respects me.”

Although terms of the deal were not officially released, NFL.com reported earlier this week the veteran cornerback's deal is a one-year, $2.5 million contract.


Gruden: Redskins 'keeping a close eye' on Santana Moss
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(9:55 am ET) With wide receiver Santana Moss still looking to continue his NFL career, Washington coach Jay Gruden said there is a chance the Redskins might re-sign the veteran receiver, who had just 10 catches in 2014.

"We're keeping a close eye on Santana," Gruden said at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix, per ESPN. "You know, that's something that we know where Santana is and he knows where we are, and something may work out down the road.

"I could always play with Santana. Santana's a great person. He's great in the locker room for us. He knows all the positions. I know he's going to be in great shape, and I would not hesitate one bit to call him."


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:11 am ET) New Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas told SI.com he has already begun working with quarterback Blake Bortles.

"It’s exciting, that first time you get to work out with your new quarterback," he said. "We’ve got a couple thousand more reps to go, but I’m really looking forward to that chemistry and growing with that entire offense."

The expectations will be elevated for Thomas, who is coming off two great seasons with the Broncos. However, Thomas isn't out to prove he can have the same production without Peyton Manning throwing him passes.

"I think I’ve got to be a little bit cautious on trying to prove so much," he said. "I think I’ve just got to go out there and work my hardest, and do everything I can to win every route, and see what happens. I don’t want to set a goal of 'I gotta have these numbers.' I’m just going to work my hardest every day, do everything I can to become a better player, and do everything I can to help out my team and this offense."

Thomas is also confident he will be able to coexist on offense with veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has been with the team since 2006.

"I don’t think we’ll have any problem playing together," he said. "I was actually talking to him this weekend. I ran into him; we both live in L.A. He’s a really good guy. I’ve met him a couple times before. We both have the same marketing company, so we know the same people, and people that I respect speak very highly of him. I think we complement each other very well. There are going to be things that he can teach me, and I can learn from him."


 
 
 
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