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Start 'em, Sit 'em: Week 15 picks

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Start 'em, Sit 'em: Week 15 picks

Mark is cheating. We haven't caught him yet, but he remains in first place after finishing dead-last in the CSN Fantasy Football League. It was ugly. With just a few weeks remaining, Scott and Tony have outside chances to reach him. But more important, you've got a fantasy football playoff round to win. With the injury bug affecting players around the league, now is the perfect time to raid your league's waiver wire. There very well may be a hidden gem that could lead you to a fantasy football championship in your league, while startsit decisions could cost you the season, not just a single game.
Just a reminder for those keeping score at home (though we'll do it for you), for players who each analyst starts, these are the points they will receive:
Start 'em:
5 points if a player scores 25 points4: 20-243: 15-192: 10-141: 5-90: negative-4
Sit 'em:
5 points if a player scores negative points to 5 points4: 5-93: 10-142: 15-191: 20-240: 25
Without further adieu, here are our picks for Week 14. Good luck!
Mark Strotman (Week 14: 15 points; Season total: 179 points)
Alright, this is escalating quickly. I mean this is really getting out of hand fast. I'm not sure why I keep hitting on these picks (as my 12th place finish in the preview would indicate), but I'm starting to think it says more about Scott and Tony than it does me. Kidding...I think. Anyway, I have to stay with my theory of taking risks in the playoffs. Winning in fantasy takes luck, and you can make educated guesses as to who will go off to help you out. If you're in the semifinals this week, best of luck and feel free to ride my coattails to the championship.
Start 'em
Stephen Jackson, RB -- STL (vs. MIN)
In years past a running back's matchup against the Vikings would have been cause for concern, but that's not the case this season. Eight straight running backs have racked up 100 total yards or more against Jared Allen and co., and Stephen Jackson is quietly putting up double-digit numbers on a routine basis. He's a nice RB2 start this week, so don't get scared off by the Vikings' defense.
Josh Gordon, WR -- CLE (vs. WAS)
A whopping seven wide receivers this season have caught more than 200 receiving yards against the Redskins' secondary this year, and Gordon may be a top-5 deep-ball threat in the NFL. He's starting to get more targets late in the season, and Brandon Weeden loves to throw. Gordon is a solid back-end WR2 and great flex option for you this week.
Russell Wilson, QB -- SEA (@ BUF)
Look away, Bears' fans. Though many won't want to see this name pop up, I think he's an excellent choice if you are looking for high-risk, high-reward quarterback. The Bills' pass defense is nothing special, and Wilson is coming off a relaxing game, where the 58-0 blowout win didn't allow him to really open up through the air. Wilson can win you a week, and he may just do it against Buffalo.
Sit 'em
Miles Austin, WR -- DAL (PIT)
Dez Bryant should be good to go this week, and the fact is Austin has scored just once since Week 7. He's always a potential play to put up big numbers, but at this point you may be better of looking for a better WR2 if you can. Pittsburgh's pass defense has been solid lately, and Jason WittenDez Bryant are getting most of the looks. Find someone else.
Reggie Bush, RB -- MIA (vs. JAC)
The Jaguars are a putrid defense against the run, which may be reason enough to make Bush a start...but remember, it's fine to risk someone in the flex. Bush may put up solid numbers, but he isn't going to go off. Start him if you must, but he's just not the same running back he was earlier in the year. He's worn down.
Torrey Smith, WR -- BAL (vs. DEN)
I'll admit I was on the Torrey Smith bandwagon BIG TIME this season, but he has surpassed 100 yards just twice this season, and his big games have come against pretty uninspiring pass defenses (NE, OAK, SD). Well, here comes Denver. The Broncos won't let Smith go off, so while he may get a few catches short, he's not a candidate to explode in Week 2 of the playoffs.
Scott Krinch (Week 14: 10 points; Season total: 168 points)
And just like that, my hopes of catching Mark in the standings took a major hit. Now I'm in serious danger of falling into last place with only two weeks to play. This is not the way I envisioned things. Should I get crazy and take some risks with a chance of inching on Mark's point total, or do I play it safe so Tony doesn't surpass me? How about a little of both?
Last week I started Jay Cutler, whoops. I rode the Law Firm's hot streak which was a horrible move, I should have known better. But, where I really went wrong was in my sits. Cam Newton decided to turn into 2011 Cam on the Falcons, Alfred Morris did his thing once again and apparently Julio Jones' ankle is just fine. Time to forget about all that jazz. With that being said, give my picks a looksie (you probably shouldn't take my advice) and find your hidden gem that will lead to the Fantasy Football Championship game.
Start 'em
Andrew Luck, QB -- IND (@ HOU)
Sunday marks Luck's first career-start against the Texans, the team that Indy has been chasing in the AFC South standings all season. I know Luck didn't have a good game against Tennessee last week, but after seeing what the Patriots did to Houston's secondary it's hard not to have high hopes for Luck this week. The Texans are also dealing with a depleted secondary. On the road, the rookie signal-caller is averaging 306 passing yards per game. I expect a huge week and I don't see any reason not to start Luck.
Matt Forte, RB -- CHI (vs. GB)
It's been a disappointing year for the former first-round fantasy pick. With only three touchdowns on the ground and two 100-plus rushing games, the decision to sit Forte each week has been getting easier. So why aren't I go with those statistics for Week 15? Well, if the Bears have a shot at being the Packers, it's going to come down to Mike Tice trusting the run. Green Bay has feasted on Jay Cutler's interceptions. Expect the Bears to establish the running game with No. 22 against a Packers defense who's given up 101.8 yards per game to running backs with four touchdowns in their past four games.
Lance Moore, WR -- NO (vs. TB)
Moore has to have a dynamite fantasy performance at some point, right? I've kept him on one of my teams all season long for that very reason and if he's going to breakout, this is the week to do so. Last time the Saints battled Tampa Bay, Moore had nine catches for 121. I expect this matchup to be a shootout due in large part to both teams having brutal secondaries. I'm expecting a 20-point fantasy game for Moore, one could hope right?
Sit 'em
Ben Roethlisberger, QB -- PIT (@ DAL)
Roethlisberger made fantasy owners happy in his return on Sunday with three touchdown scores, but it's time to tamper that enthusiasm this week. The Cowboys secondary has allowed only two touchdown passes in their last two games, which doesn't bode well for Big Ben. Don't take the risk this week. There are safer options out there if you're in desperate need of a quarterback for Week 15.
C.J. Spiller, RB -- BUF (vs. SEA)
Fantasy owners have been handcuffed by Chain Gailey's decision to split time between Spiller and Fred Jackson all season. Well, this week Gailey is giving Spiller the keys to the offense after Jackson was placed on the IR. So does this mean a monster game for Spiller? Not in my eyes. Seattle's defense is no joke after scoring 53 fantasy points last week, they're on a mission to grab a wild card spot in the NFC. Hold off on starting Spiller this week.
Randall Cobb, WR -- GB (@ CHI)
It's starting to look more and more like Cobb is the Packers No. 1 wide receiver going forward. Rodgers has shown trust in Cobb as he's been seeing his targets go up each week. Despite the Packers recent dominance in the ChicagoGreen Bay rivalry, the Bears have showed an ability to slow down Rodgers. I expect the same of that this week, especially after being embarrassed the past two weeks. I wouldn't be putting my trust into Cobb this week if I owned him in my fantasy leagues.
Tony Andracki (Week 14: 13 points; Season total: 160 points)
Well, last week was more of the same for me, as Greg Jennings put up a goose egg. But at least I didn't sit some guy who wound up having a career day. Matt Ryan was pretty good, but not great, and same with Tony Romo on the starts. Hakeem Nicks scored a touchdown, but he's still dealing with a knee injury and I just don't trust him at all. 
I do have faith in Chris Johnson still, though. I think he can -- and will -- do some real damage this week against the Jets.
My season score in this startsit isn't good, but so you might be surprised that I still have three of my four teams alive and well in the playoffs (though a first-round Bye definitely helps that). And in one of my leagues, I fully plan to start Danario Alexander. Call me crazy, but at least I don't wear leather skirts, Kanye.
Start 'em
Chris Johnson, RB -- TEN (vs. NYJ)
Johnson has been a bit up-and-down this season, but I guess that comes with the territory. CJ1K has had some very good games since his horrid start, but has still topped 20 fantasy points just once this season, against the Bills in Week 7. Expect him to approach that total this week, against the Jets defense that has allowed at least 100 rushing yards in all but three games this season.
Colin Kaepernick, QB -- SF (@ NE)
The wonderkid has netted at least 14 fantasy points in every game since taking over as the starter, despite just three passing touchdowns. His ability to scramble and pick up 50 yards on one rushing play is a huge boost to his numbers, and expect more of the same this week against New England. The Patriots have actually improved their pass defense after spending much of the season at the bottom of the league, but still may not have an answer for a QB with the athleticism of Kaepernick. Plus, if the Niners are down, they'll be putting the ball in Colin's hands more, letting him sling it often.
Danario Alexander, WR -- SD (vs. CAR)
Sometimes in fantasy football, you gotta just take a risk and say "what the hell?" Kinda like Kanye at the 121212 concert with his leather skirt. But in the case of Alexander, he won't bomb completely. Ever since working his way up the depth chart, the Mizzou grad has garnered at least 3 catches and 60 yards in every game, and has racked up double digit fantasy points in four of the last five games, including two 20-point outings. Take the risk. It'll be worth it.
Sit 'em
Andrew Luck, QB -- IND (@ HOU)
I know, I know -- the Texans have given up 25 fantasy points to opposing QBs in three of the last four weeks, including a game against the Chad Henne-led Jags. But I'm betting they get back to playing some solid defense this week and make the Colts' sensation look more like the rookie he is. Yes, Luck has been one of the guys to get you to the playoffs, I'm sure, but this is not the best matchup for him.
Knowshon Moreno, RB -- DEN (@ BAL)
When Willis McGahee went down to injury, most people assumed it would be Ronnie Hillman to get the bulk of the carries and absorb McGahee's fantasy value in that Broncos offense. But it's been Moreno, who has emerged from the shadows to relevancy again, with 38 fantasy points the last three weeks. The Baltimore defense is not what it has been in years past -- especially with all the injuries -- but I'm not so sure Moreno will have success again. I could see Peyton Manning going off, but not Moreno.

Mike Wallace, WR -- PIT (@ DAL)
Wallace has scored 8 tuddies this year, but he has topped 15 fantasy points just twice this season, and one of those came in Week 3. Yeah, he was a beast last week (23 points, two scores) with Roethlisberger back in the lineup, but don't expect another outing like that. Wallace is just too inconsistent to trust in the playoffs, especially if you have other quality options.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.