Week 8 kicked off in entertaining fashion on Thursday as wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders blew up the box score while leading Denver to a 35-21 win over the visiting San Diego Chargers. When the dust settled in the Mile High City, Peyton Manning had connected with Sanders nine times for 120 yards and a trio of touchdowns. It was a normal Manning performance as Denver widened their lead in the AFC West, with Peyton throwing for 286 yards and three scores with Sanders as his receiver of choice near the goal line. Manning is now on pace to reach 50 touchdown passes for the second straight season and is a nice dose of HGH for fantasy lineups.
Emmanuel Sanders wasn’t the only Broncos player making an impact on the fantasy scene on Thursday, as both Ronnie Hillman and Demaryius Thomas also turned in productive stat lines. Thomas saw a team-high 12 targets and hauled in eight of those passes for 105 yards on the evening. Over Denver’s last four games, Demaryius Thomas is averaging a ridiculous 12.3 targets per game to go along with 8.5 catches and 156.5 yards per contest. Thomas is a priceless fantasy commodity in Manning’s offense.
Denver running back Ronnie Hillman made the most of his touches, as he turned 20 carries into 109 yards while also chipping in with 29 receiving yards. Hillman’s Thursday Night effort will be most remembered for his four “potential” touchdowns that were either called back or vultured by Juwan Thompson, but he did run extremely well when given the opportunity. Montee Ball (groin) is falling further behind Hillman by the week as he attempts to return from injury, and the Broncos may change the locks to the stadium doors before he gets back.
San Diego also produced some notable fantasy performances on Thursday, with Philip Rivers hooking up with Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates frequently as the Chargers attempted to hang with the high scoring Denver offense. Allen finally delivered a touchdown to fantasy owners and he added 73 receiving yards on nine catches for good measure. The target totals have been encouraging for Allen over the past month, so it was nice to see him find the painted section of the field for once.
Fantasy football’s favorite senior citizen had a fantastic evening, as Antonio Gates stacked up two touchdown catches, giving him nine scores on the season. Gates has now scored in five of San Diego’s eight games this year and is firmly planted in TE1 territory whether Ladarius Green supporters like it or not. Gates needs only four more scores to tie his career high of 13 touchdowns, set in 2004 when teammate Keenan Allen was in seventh grade. As long as Gates remains healthy, he is a rock solid weekly start.
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Chargers at Broncos Quick Slants
San Diego running back Branden Oliver had a tough go, as he managed a mere 36 yards on 13 carries. PPR enthusiasts scraped together a marginally better evening, as Oliver did catch seven passes for 27 yards. … Julius Thomas was held out of the end zone for the second straight game, with just two catches and 23 yards to his credit on Thursday. Look for Thomas to get back on the touchdown parade route next week at New England. … Juwan Thompson ran hard when given his seven carries during this contest and recorded two touchdowns in goal line situations. Thompson won’t be startable anytime soon but if Hillman misses time in the near future, it appears that Thompson is the preferred option over little-used C.J. Anderson.
In Other News…
The New Orleans backfield is in rough shape as we head into the weekend with Pierre Thomas (shoulder) out and Khiry Robinson (forearm) missing Thursday’s practice. Savvy fantasy owners will look to this situation and extract some value, as Mark Ingram should see additional touches if Robinson is inactive and Travaris Cadet is in line for a monster receiving day while replacing Thomas. Oddsmakers expect New Orleans’ Week 8 game at home against Green Bay to be the highest scoring contest of the week, so grabbing any part of this fantasy pie is a solid idea.
Raiders coach Tony Sparano announced on Thursday that he believes the team needs to get Maurice Jones-Drew more carries. Just when Darren McFadden had begun to regain the trust of fantasy owners he burned for years, the Oakland coaching staff could potentially throw a speed bump in DMC’s path. McFadden has received 34 touches to Jones-Drew’s eight touches over the last two weeks, which actually seems like a fair split when considering each player’s current ability. Oakland matches up with Cleveland on Sunday, who allowed Denard Robinson to rack up 127 rushing yards in Week 7, so there is the possibility of production from Oakland backs this week. The actual workload split remains to be seen but any interference from Jones-Drew would wipe the shine from McFadden’s newly acquired RB2 status.
Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick spoke on Thursday and admitted that he “didn’t get it to Andre [Johnson] nearly enough early” as the Texans fell to Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football. Although Houston is dead last in the NFL in passing attempts per game (27.6), Andre Johnson is still seeing nine targets per outing but is lacking in the touchdown department with just one score on the year. Johnson’s fantasy owners should be encouraged that Fitzpatrick is conscious of the fact that he should be feeding the veteran wide receiver and a large target total could be in store on Sunday as Houston battles Tennessee.
News and Notes
Seattle tight end Luke Willson (groin) is practicing in full this week, so the bright flash of Cooper Helfet’s career may have already passed. … Colt McCoy was officially named the Washington Week 8 starting quarterback. Fire up Dallas as your fantasy defense this week. … DeAngelo Williams will miss Week 8 but Carolina is hoping they will have Williams’ services for Week 9. It will be Jonathan Stewart leading the Panthers backfield on Sunday against Seattle and is best left for the most desperate and daring of fantasy owners. … Colts OC Pep Hamilton labeled rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief “ahead of schedule” on Thursday. With Reggie Wayne (elbow) a dicey bet to play in Week 8, Moncrief will be on “breakout watch” if his snap count continues to increase. … Browns coach Mike Pettine declared on Thursday that Oakland wide receiver Brice Butler “jumps off the tape.” Unfortunately, Pettine isn’t in control of Butler’s playing time but the young receiver does possess some upside that may intrigue dynasty aficionados. … With Reggie Bush (ankle) looking like a shaky bet to play in Week 8, Theo Riddick (hamstring) could be in line for additional touches after practicing fully on Thursday. … Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said on Thursday that Denard Robinson will continue to start despite Toby Gerhart’s return to health. The man they call “Shoelace” will be in RB2 territory in Week 8.
Injury Quick Slants
Benny Cunningham (knee) was limited in practice on Thursday, which may put his Week 8 role in Jeff Fisher’s “hot hand committee” in jeopardy. Cunningham is a PPR flex at absolute best, but one less running back in St. Louis would give Tre Mason more breathing room. … Travis Kelce (ribs) was limited in practice on Thursday but doesn’t appear to be in danger of missing Week 8. He will remain a borderline TE1/TE2 option. … Shonn Greene (hamstring) was limited on Thursday but all signs point to him returning in Week 8 to muddy up the Tennessee backfield picture. … Darren Sproles (knee) squeezed in a limited practice session on Thursday and is still in line to potentially suit up against Arizona in Week 8. Stay tuned throughout the weekend as we update Sproles’ status. … A.J. Green (toe) was out again on Thursday and his fantasy owners will need to make alternate plans at wide receiver this week. … Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) said he would be surprised if he didn’t play in Week 8. This is unsettling for rookie Zach Mettenberger, who will have to dodge J.J. Watt, in addition to Clowney, in his first NFL start. … Arizona coach Bruce Arians stated that Carson Palmer’s shoulder issue is now a “thing of the past," which is fantastic news for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd owners moving forward. … It appears that Ryan Mathews (knee) could be out through San Diego’s Week 10 bye, which would lengthen Branden Oliver’s leash in the Chargers backfield.