The fantasy football playoffs are getting close — time to keep an extra eye out for maneuvers that seem wacky and unexpected opportunities.
With Seattle and Cincinnati on byes, don't be all that surprised if their defenses get dropped along with Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, the top fantasy kicker in the game and also the second-most dropped player in Yahoo as of Tuesday night.
Or maybe owners will keep them and drop a running back likely to get plenty of touches the rest of this season. Among the top 25 most dropped running backs on Yahoo are Fred Jackson with Buffalo on a bye, Miami's Lamar Miller and Atlanta's Steven Jackson.
A tiny sliver of owners on ESPN and Yahoo are even dropping Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, apparently unable to wait out his injury.
Besides Rodgers and the Seattle defense, perhaps, the moves aren't as desperate as they might seem.
Simply put, the weeks before the playoffs regularly force fantasy players into tough decisions that result in names on the waiver wire that are higher than replacement level.
That's when — if the circumstances are right — you pounce.
Just make sure if you pick up someone's leftover Ray Rice or Roddy White, you're doing it with a purpose beyond feeling as though the player should be owned in your league. Unless you're in a deep keeper league, every player you carry on your roster should have some reasonable chance to start for you between now and the championship, either because of a favorable matchup or injury.
Some fantasy players will take things even further, either tanking a game to try to manipulate playoff seeding or sacrificing one week for better positioning for a playoff run. If this sounds like you, just remember a few things:
— Make sure everything you do falls in line with your league rules.
— It doesn't matter if you're in first place and have a two-game lead on the next guy or girl. You haven't clinched anything until your platform says so.
— Even if you handpick your opponents and path to the title, your top mission is still scoring the most points you can each week. That's on you, not someone else.
Gamesmanship is great, but don't outsmart yourself.
THE REAL BUSTS
It's a conversation every year: Who are the biggest breakouts and busts? There are many ways to measure, and here's another: The following players are owned the most often on last-place teams in CBS Sports leagues.
QB: Tom Brady, New England; Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco. Some people believe Brady is on the upswing after throwing for 296 yards and a touchdown Monday night against Carolina. Kaepernick's rushing numbers aren't enough to make up for his low passing totals. There are 15 quarterbacks who have more total points in standard leagues that tally four points per touchdown passing.
RB: C.J. Spiller, Buffalo; Trent Richardson, Indianapolis; Ray Rice, Baltimore; Steven Jackson, Atlanta; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville. All five players were taken on average in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts this year.
WR: Roddy White, Atlanta; Marques Colston, New Orleans; Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona; Steve Smith, Carolina. It's probably not hard to guess that Fitzgerald has been the most productive of this group this year. But 20 receivers have been even better, including Riley Cooper and Jerricho Cotchery.
No tight ends made CBS's top 12 list of players most often on last-place teams. But as a bonus, here's a list of the players most often on first-place teams:
QB: Peyton Manning, Denver; Matthew Stafford, Detroit.
RB: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia; Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Matt Forte, Chicago; Marshawn Lynch, Seattle; Knowshon Moreno, Denver.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia; Jordy Nelson, Green Bay; Demaryius Thomas, Denver.
TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans.
RINGER TIME: STEPHANIA BELL
ESPN's injury expert, Stephania Bell, doesn't think it's a sure thing that the NFL is seeing more injuries this season than in years past, though she's kept plenty busy and fantasy owners certainly seem to believe it's the case.
"Somehow I hear people say that every year. Is every year the worst we've ever seen? It's a fascinating question," said Bell, a licensed physical therapist who has a practice in California and analyzes injuries for ESPN (http://es.pn/16d6Odh).
"I, for one, would be reluctant to throw that out," she said.
But Bell says NFL teams are approaching injuries differently in terms of how they're handled and reported. And while it might be easy for fans to point to rules governing hits, concussions and the league's collective bargaining agreement, spikes or dips are possible in any given season, making it hard to judge even one year in isolation, she said.
"They're removing players from injury now differently than they were before," Bell said. "Think about the fact that now everything's much more public."
But no matter how 2013 ends up comparing with other years, Bell says this season has reinforced for her that running backs are the most fragile position in fantasy football.
"It's playing out again this year — not that it's always going to be dramatic abuse but we see all these guys banged up," Bell said.
Bell said it's tough to find any top running backs who haven't appeared on their team's injury report at some point this season, making it understandable why more teams are turning to two-running back sets.
As a fantasy player, Bell said she uses her expertise most often on draft day, changing her priorities based on players she believes have a higher chance of hurting themselves during the year. She says that the biggest predictor of future injury is prior injury, and soft-tissue injuries are often more troublesome than bone breaks or other random contact injuries.
"I will hear people talk about guys and if there's something about their injury history I don't like, they become undraftable for me," she said.
She's happy if they end up staying healthy and performing well, but "I'm still going to say I made the right decision for me."
Houston's Case Keenum getting benched really hurt in a two-quarterback league where my running backs also underperformed and I left Michael Floyd on the bench in favor of Jarrett Boykin. At 5-6, I'm one spot from the playoffs. Went 1-4 overall in Week 11 — which stinks but didn't dramatically alter any playoff hopes. Was 3-2 in daily leagues.
In another league where I'm 8-3 and in first place, I have the Bengals defense, Hauschka and a concussed Jordan Reed, with my worst running back C.J. Spiller and worst wide receiver Josh Gordon. Looks like some decent players will have to be dropped.