Fantasy & Reality: Scheduling conflicts

It's about that time. Either you're in the hunt or out of it, and if you're not sure if you're in the hunt then you're probably not. The Fantasy postseason starts in four weeks for most of us and the one thing every Fantasy owner can't afford to do is ignore the late-season schedule.

In a perfect world, our quarterbacks would throw against the Titans and Redskins every week and our running backs would go off against the Raiders and Bills. But only a handful of teams have good matchups down the stretch -- others have some nightmarish opponents that could cause some lineup-setting headaches. Knowing who plays who for the last chunk of the season could make all the difference in the moves you make before trade deadlines pass and waiver wire sleepers wake up.

Keep in mind that the strengths and weaknesses in defenses vary based on available personnel. When the season started the Ravens and Eagles were considered staunch defenses while the Dolphins and Broncos weren't on anyone's radar. Now the Ravens have lost a lot of talent and are struggling against the run and the pass and the Eagles' veterans aren't playing at a high level while the Dolphins and Broncos are opening eyes.

For the purpose of this study, we're evaluating defenses based on how they've been playing lately and not factoring in their stats from earlier in the season. We're also looking at Weeks 11 through 16, not Week 17.

Five teams with favorable schedules

Might be the best season-ending schedule for any passing attack. Patient Andre Johnson owners should get rewarded and shrewd Matt Schaub owners could find some pleasing matchups.
Five home games really help, especially against some suspect defenses (Redskins AND Saints). Those are wrapped around a trip to Cincinnati. Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Jason Witten could be easy starters for the stretch run.
Cake schedule, but we've known that for a while. Still not too late to swipe Willis McGahee and Demaryius Thomas for a decent price (Eric Decker's value is too high).
Panthers TB @PHI @KC ATL @SD OAK
Could Cam Newton be a Fantasy hero? The only scary opponent (Atlanta) is the one he put up his best Fantasy week against this year. Should bode well for Steve Smith, too.
The Giants are one of two teams to face the Redskins and Saints poor pass defenses in this six-game stretch. Really not a bad finishing slate for the G-Men, even with a bye week and four road games.

Five teams with terrible schedules

For a team that's already in some trouble on both sides of the ball, playing at home once against division-leading Chicago over this stretch is bad news. If Percy Harvin misses Week 10 the time might be right to trade him for a starter (maybe two) who can help since he could be in for some tough games down the stretch here.
No one should rely on Philip Rivers as a solid Fantasy starter in the first place, but this schedule doesn't offer a lot of promise. These road games are brutal.
This won't be an easy finish for the 49ers: Four tough run defenses and three tough road games in the final six suggest selling high on Frank Gore. Vernon Davis might have similar difficulties.
Probably the hardest run-defense schedule for any team between Weeks 12 and 16 -- maybe even enough to sell high on Lynch (Lynch for Doug Martin?).
Good matchups for Alfred Morris but not exactly the smoothest closing schedule for RG3. For him to really exploit some of these matchups he'll need his receivers to step up. Otherwise it could be ugly.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: The Panthers' starters won't be helpful in Week 10. Start with the run game, which is a total mess. Jonathan Stewart seemed like he had a firm grip on the running job but tough matchups led to some weak stats and last week opportunities were pulled in what was a good matchup. The Broncos defense should be fundamentally sound to handle whoever gets the ball on handoffs. As for the Panthers' passing game, if Cam Newton couldn't get it done against the Redskins, I'm just not sure how effective he'll be against the Broncos. John Fox has a good working knowledge of Steve Smith's strengths and weaknesses as well as the running backs he brought to Carolina while he was the head coach there. Fox and Cam never crossed paths but I'm pretty sure Fox has a good defense for the read-option after running it for much of last season with Tim Tebow. The aggressive Broncos pass rush should play a big role and limit the upside of Carolina's receivers. The Broncos should play well.

Reality: Two Steelers -- Emmanuel Sanders and Isaac Redman -- will be helpful in Week 10. With a big thanks to our two Steelers RapidReporters -- Chuck Finder and Chris Adamski -- I've gathered that Isaac Redman will be the primary rusher for the Steelers on Monday against Kansas City. That's important since he'll get the biggest chance to slice into the 181.7 total yards per game the Chiefs are giving up to running backs. Jonathan Dwyer should be solid too, but Redman's 5.7 rushing average against the Giants last week was impressive, as were the 26 carries the Steelers gave him (Dwyer had 17 in both of his nice games a couple of weeks ago). As for Sanders, he's playing better this year compared to the two previous years. He's catching over 60 percent of his passes and will see a big bump in playing time for Antonio Brown, who has received at least eight targets in most of his games. Oh, and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley gets to extract some revenge on the team that sent him packing last season and might not hold back. Get these guys active.

Fantasy: Jamaal Charles is trustworthy. I'll take you back to four games ago when the Chiefs gave Charles a whopping 31 carries against Baltimore. The Ravens barely beat Kansas City but Charles trounced them for 140 rush yards. Things seemed peachy for Charles, but in the three games since he's totaled 29 carries for 83 yards. Injuries have played a role, but the lack of carries for Charles is what ultimately makes me nervous. How are Fantasy owners supposed to trust him against the Steelers, who have been dynamite against the run? The answer: You cannot. Pittsburgh has allowed just one 100-yard rusher all year and contained Charles to 58 yards on 17 carries (with a receiving touchdown) when they last played in 2009 in Kansas City. With all the turmoil surrounding the Chiefs and Charles' role questioned, he's a big big risk.

Reality: Cecil Shorts is pretty good, and he can get better. Count on Shorts being the Jaguars' best Fantasy option for the rest of the season. He's got some wheels on him and can break short passes for big gains or catch deep passes (he was robbed of one on Thursday against the Colts). What a lot of people might not mention is that Shorts played on all but one snap against Indy. Anyone think Jacksonville is going to have the lead in a lot of games this season? Shorts will play plenty and put up good numbers the rest of the way.

DST sleepers for Week 10

All of our DST sleepers are owned in 50 percent of leagues or less.

Last week's DST sleepers: Buccaneers (Eight Fantasy points), Raiders (Muscle Hamster-ed) and Saints (23 points).

I'm not going to lie to you -- this is a bad week for DSTs. You can check my rankings for proof that I liked the Colts DST as a sleeper (and they came through) but since I'm writing this on Friday it would be mischievous of me to write them off as a sleeper. With that said, your remaining choices are pretty nasty.

Buccaneers (vs. Chargers) ... San Diego is putting points on the board, landing at least 24 points in four of its last five, but DSTs still have managed to score double digits in two of those four 24-plus-point games along with the one game it didn't get to 24 points (Week 8 against the Browns). Philip Rivers has not thrown an interception in two games and he's been sacked at least once in every game. And the Chargers have a fumbling problem: As a team they've lost a fumble in each of their last four. Even with a depleted secondary the Bucs don't look half bad.

Eagles (vs. Cowboys) ... Yeah, it's that bad on the waiver wire. Romo hasn't thrown an interception in two of his last three games but the one he did he followed it up with three more. He's been sacked five times in the last two games. And the Cowboys have scored 24 points or less in all but one game this year. It's another Kamikaze DST (the Saints were one last week).

Three more things

• There are a zillion questions stuffing my inbox about the Raiders running game now that Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have matching high ankle sprains. I'm familiar with both Marcel Reece and Taiwan Jones, the two men tasked with replacing both Raiders runners this week. And I can tell you I am decidedly more confident in Reece being a factor in Fantasy than Jones.

Let's start here: Following the two times Mike Goodson left the field last week vs. the Bucs, Reece played 23 snaps while Jones played five. Jones basically gave Reece a little rest in the second half and had one carry for 2 yards where he was thrown to the turf by linebacker Lavonte David. Reece, meanwhile, was much more than just a running back. He lined up everywhere: in the backfield, as an in-line tight end, in the slot and even out wide as a receiver, which is where he was when he caught a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer on a go-route in single coverage. And that wasn't his only end-zone target in the game, as it became increasingly clear to me that Palmer liked throwing to him. And before you go writing off Reece as a poor rusher, you should know that he had a nice run negated by a holding penalty on his offensive line.

I know a lot has been made about both backs contributing this week against the Ravens, and there's no question Jones should see the most snaps of his career on Sunday. But from the very second Goodson went down against the Bucs, Reece was in and he rarely left. The Raiders have a human Swiss Army Knife in Reece and I expect him to be very useful against the Ravens.

• Two Dolphins players are big on my list this week because of the matchup against the Titans: Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline. The Titans have allowed nine-plus Fantasy points to five wideouts over their last four games. In that four-game span they've allowed eight passing scores total and 20 on the season. And this is wild: The only starting quarterback who did not post 19 Fantasy points or more against the Titans this season is Andrew Luck. Everyone else they've faced including Jay Cutler last week, Philip Rivers in Week 2, Matt Schaub in Week 4 and Christian Ponder in Week 5 have managed to hit that 19-point number. Tannehill has thrown multiple touchdowns in just one game and totaled two scores in two games, but the matchup is just too good to ignore.

• Before you settle in for the action on Sunday, take a gander at your live scoring page and consider any last-minute lineup changes based on the current score of your game. For instance, let's say you went up against Cecil Shorts this week and find yourself down by a bunch of points already. You might want to start a player with some upside for a big week over a "safe" player. Here's an example: Raiders running back Taiwan Jones versus Rams running back Steven Jackson. For all that we love about him, S-Jax just isn't having a productive season and has one game with 10-plus Fantasy points. There isn't a lot of upside to Jackson, especially facing off against the 49ers. Jones, however, has nothing but upside since expectations are already low for him. No one knows just how much he'll play against the Ravens, but one good run can throw dust on Jackson and help Fantasy owners get out of a hole dug by Shorts.

Point is, if you're losing heading into Sunday, consider making a move to a player with some big upside over a player who might be dependable for a certain range of points but nothing more.

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 and on Facebook .

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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