9:30AM ET Game
Detroit vs. Atlanta
Before the season, you might have seen Lions-Falcons on the schedule and forecasted a shootout. Instead, Detroit has played league-best defense through seven games, while the arrow is pointing directly downward on Atlanta's offense. This game will be played early Sunday at London's Wembley Stadium, meaning players will probably have gotten up at 4 or 5 in the morning (their time) to prepare. Vegas' 46.5-point over-under may prove generous. ... Flaming out after a hot start, Matt Ryan is just 77-of-126 passing for 815 yards (6.47 YPA) with three touchdowns and three turnovers over his last three games, absorbing ten sacks. Atlanta's rag-tag offensive line can't keep Ryan clean, and a subsequent lack of confidence in his protection has forced OC Dirk Koetter to remove dimensions from the offense, limiting what Koetter can call and what Ryan can do. The Lions rank No. 7 in pass defense and third in sacks, and have allowed a league-low seven passing TDs. Ryan is fast trending toward QB2 stock. ... Ryan's target distribution on the season: Julio Jones 77; Roddy White 54; Devin Hester and Levine Toilolo 25; Devonta Freeman 23; Harry Douglas 17; Steven Jackson 15; Antone Smith 14; Jacquizz Rodgers 11. ... As Julio continued to be plagued by drops in last week's loss to Baltimore, Roddy stepped up for his year-best game, registering 9-100-1 on 15 targets. Although White seemingly showed signs of decline in the season's first six games, he has enough left in tank to pick up the slack when Jones isn't as big a factor. Neither Falcons wideout has a good matchup -- White will run most of his Week 8 routes against impressive sophomore LCB Darius Slay -- but both should continue to be heavily targeted. I like White as a high-end WR3 play.
Julio is now scoreless in four straight weeks, but has seen at least eight targets in every 2014 game. His dip in production is tied directly to poor play, as Jones has dropped five passes over his last three games. Despite whispers of a foot or ankle injury, Jones played 86% of Atlanta's Week 7 snaps. This is another week where I'd avoid Julio on FanDuel, but he should stay locked into season-long lineups. He'll do battle with still-effective but 34-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis for most of Sunday morning's affair. ... Douglas is finally due back from his hamstring injury, pushing struggling Hester down the depth chart. I'd want to see Douglas last four full quarters before using him in a fantasy league. Douglas offers scant upside to begin with, and the risk of an in-game setback lowers his floor. ... The Lions have held enemy running backs to 443 yards and just three TDs on 138 carries (3.21 YPC). Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, and Pierre Thomas were stuffed for 55 scoreless yards on 19 runs (2.89 YPC) by DC Teryl Austin's defense last week. As Atlanta is stubbornly committed to a four-man backfield and refuses to use any member of its tailback corps as a workhorse, no Falcons back is worth firing up in Week 8. Here was last week's snap distribution in Baltimore: S-Jax 27; Freeman 16; Quizz Rodgers 15; Antone Smith 11. Touches were distributed as follows: S-Jax 9; Freeman 7; Smith 5; Rodgers 3. Atlanta ranks No. 23 in the NFL in rushing, while Detroit is No. 1 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. Avoid at all costs.
Overseas in an oddly-timed game and without numerous critical pass catchers, it would make sense for the Lions to feature their rejuvenated rushing attack. Joique Bell isn't lighting up the stat sheet, but has restored a chain-moving element to Detroit's backfield and offense overall. Handling 20 touches in back-to-back games, the Lions' primary ball carrier has produced 164 total yards with a pair of goal-line scores. Through seven weeks, Atlanta has yielded 886 yards and a league-high 12 rushing TDs on 209 carries (4.24 YPC) to opposing running backs. No defense in the league allows more fantasy points to the position. Joique is a recommended RB2 with a good chance to hit pay dirt. ... Over the last three weeks, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and Jay Cutler have combined to go 61-of-93 passing (65.6%) for 839 yards (9.02 YPA), five touchdowns, and two interceptions against Atlanta. Consistently allowing a clean pocket to enemy quarterbacks, the pass rush-bereft Falcons are tied for 30th in the NFL in sacks (7). Although Matthew Stafford has been a fringe QB1 without Calvin Johnson, he is coming off six-week highs in yards (299) and completion rate (67.5%) in last Sunday's win over New Orleans, and has a good enough matchup to produce as a low-end fantasy starter. Until Megatron returns -- which I'm guessing will happen following Detroit's Week 9 bye -- Stafford will offer a capped box-score ceiling.
Savvy fantasy leaguers should make a trade offer for Calvin Johnson before Sunday's slate of games. The Megatron owner may be frustrated and racking up losses. The Lions have been smart with Johnson's ankle, and he should return at or near 100% after the open date. ESPN's Ed Werder reported Friday night that Johnson is "not likely" to face Atlanta. ... Still bothered by a lingering ankle injury, Reggie Bush missed Thursday and Friday's practices and is listed as doubtful. Theo Riddick will step into Detroit's No. 2 back role against the Falcons. Behind Joique Bell, Riddick would be a desperate flex play for PPR leaguers. I suspect Riddick will handle in the range of 7-11 touches. ... Stafford's target distribution with Calvin either inactive or used as a decoy the past four weeks: Golden Tate 44; Bush 17; Corey Fuller 15; Bell and Eric Ebron 12; Jeremy Ross and Brandon Pettigrew 11; Riddick 6; Megatron and Ryan Broyles 3; George Winn 2. ... Tate has been targeted on 31.9% of Stafford's passes over the past month. Only Jordy Nelson (33%), Andre Johnson (33%), and Dez Bryant (32%) have higher target shares on the season. Fantasy owners may want to consider selling Tate high with Megatron on his way back, but he's a solid WR2 against Atlanta. Primarily a slot receiver who will avoid perimeter CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford's stingy coverage, Tate should have another big day. ... Detroit's tight end position is safe to avoid with Ebron (hamstring), Joseph Fauria (ankle), and Pettigrew (foot) all hobbled. ... Fuller is coming off a 3-44-1 stat line against the Saints, catching the game-winning score. He saw five targets. Fuller's dart-throw WR3 viability is tied directly to Calvin's availability. If Megatron plays, avoid Fuller. If Megatron is inactive, Fuller is worth a look if you're desperate.
Score Prediction: Lions 23, Falcons 20
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1:00PM ET Games
Minnesota @ Tampa Bay
Vikings-Bucs has a 42.5-point over-under, tied with Dolphins-Jaguars for the third lowest of Week 8. Beyond a few notable names, this isn't a game to target in fantasy lineup decisions. ... Since looking like an NFL-caliber quarterback against the Falcons' barely-there defense in Week 4, Teddy Bridgewater has taken several steps back. He's 38-of-63 passing for 345 yards (5.48 YPA) with one touchdown and five picks over his last two games. Bridgewater has taken a whopping 13 sacks during that two-week span. Although Lovie Smith's Bucs have been creamed by opposing quarterbacks -- Tampa ranks dead last versus the pass with a 15:4 TD-to-INT ratio against and league-high 111.9 passer rating allowed -- Bridgewater has played too poorly for QB1 streamer reliability. He makes a little more sense as a two-QB-league start. ... The one ray of light in Minnesota's offense during Teddy's meltdown has been new rookie feature back Jerick McKinnon, who despite coach Mike Zimmer's promise to get Matt Asiata "more involved,” handled a season-high 21 touches and piled up 101 total yards in last week's close loss to Buffalo. Up to 5.15 YPC on the season, McKinnon also had his best game in pass protection, and on the ground showed foundation-back ability with tackle-breaking runs between the tackles as well as perimeter speed. McKinnon's Week 7 snap count was 40 compared to plodding backup Asiata's 27, and Asiata handled only seven touches. The Bucs have played the run well for the most part this season, but were gashed in their last two games by Saints and Ravens tailbacks for 296 yards and three TDs on 56 runs (5.29 YPC). McKinnon is an RB2 with an arrow pointing up. Asiata can be dropped in 12-team leagues.
Bridgewater's target distribution since the Atlanta game: Greg Jennings 13; Cordarrelle Patterson 12; Jarius Wright and McKinnon 10; Chase Ford 8; Asiata 4. ... Although Tampa Bay's secondary and overall pass-defense unit is plenty vulnerable, it's difficult to get behind a single Vikings pass catcher as a viable Week 8 fantasy start in a projected low-scoring affair with a struggling rookie quarterback at the controls. ... 31-year-old possession receiver Jennings would be the best fantasy bet. Tampa Bay is particularly exploitable on slant routes, which is a big part of Jennings' repertoire. Jennings never offers much upside, but you could do worse in a WR3 slot if you're just looking for catches in a PPR league. Quietly, Jennings has topped 70 yards in three of his last five games. ... Patterson scored his first receiving touchdown of the season in last week's loss to Buffalo, but finished under 20 yards for the third straight week. Just not a comfortable route runner in OC Norv Turner's vertical offense, Patterson is a boom-or-bust fantasy commodity who's busting much more often than booming. He has gotten a rushing attempt in back-to-back games, however, and this is the kind of defense Patterson could theoretically shred if fed the football. Patterson makes sense as a FanDuel tournament play, but he could very well do nothing. ... Since his Week 4 faux-breakout game against the Falcons, third receiver Wright has managed consecutive stat lines of 3-27, 4-17, and 4-60. Scoreless on the year, Wright is a fantasy WR6.
Here's how NFL Films' Greg Cosell broke down Doug Martin leading up to Week 6, before Martin managed 47 scoreless yards on 12 touches against the Ravens: "I don't think Doug Martin at this very moment is a very good runner. I think he's stiff. I don't think he has the same lateral agility and explosion that he had his first year in the league. I don't think he gets more yards than what are there. To me, that's a problem with a running back." The Bucs' backfield distribution will be interesting to see coming off a Week 7 open date. Martin has been downright awful both as a rusher (2.90 YPC) and pass protector, and the Tampa coaching staff has shown no sense of commitment to fumble-prone Bobby Rainey. Even in a plus matchup with Minnesota's 19th-ranked run defense, the Bucs' backfield should be avoided in fantasy lineup decisions. ... Rookie Charles Sims has resumed practicing after fracturing his ankle in mid-August. Eligible to return from the I.R./recall list in Week 9, Sims is worth stashing in 12- and 14-team leagues. The Bucs' new regime has a third-round pick invested in Sims, while Martin and Rainey were both holdovers from ex-GM Mark Dominik's tenure. If the 1-5 Buccaneers "go young" down the stretch, Sims could end up seeing a lot of work. I watched Sims' tape coming out of West Virginia and he reminded me a bit of Matt Forte. He's not quite as dynamic as Forte, but is a fluid runner with three-down tools. ... Mike Glennon has a middling Week 8 matchup against a Vikings team that ranks 16th in pass-defense DVOA, ninth in passing yards allowed, and is tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks (20). As usual, Glennon is more of a two-quarterback-league option than QB1 streamer.
Glennon's targets in his two 2014 starts with Mike Evans in the lineup: Vincent Jackson 23; Louis Murphy 20; Evans 15; Austin Seferian-Jenkins 12; Rainey 5; Martin 4; Robert Herron, Brandon Myers, and Russell Shepard 2. ... With at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown in each of his last four games, V-Jax has shaken off a discouraging start to at least return WR3 value. Jackson has collected 29% of his team's targets, the sixth highest clip among NFL wideouts, and usage that suggests V-Jax remains a recommended buy low who should resume scoring like a WR2 soon. His Week 8 matchup is good-not-great against inconsistent Vikings sophomore RCB Xavier Rhodes. ... I noticed this week that Evans is owned in just 52% of Yahoo leagues, amid trade rumors surrounding V-Jax. Add Evans immediately if he was dropped during Tampa's bye. Evans also has a quality Week 8 matchup against up-and-down LCB Josh Robinson. With 50-plus yards in three straight games and scores in each of his last two, Evans is worth a look as a WR3 in touchdown-heavy leagues. ... Gobbling up garbage-time targets, Murphy has turned in stat lines of 6-99-0, 3-35-1, and 7-72-1 since the Buccaneers signed him off the street on September 23. Murphy will be hard pressed to sustain that production with Evans and Seferian-Jenkins healthy. Murphy is a limited-snap receiver in a sub-par passing offense. ... I wouldn't rule out Seferian-Jenkins becoming a streamer option soon, but this is a tough week to support him. Although "ASJ" is a full-time player in Tampa's offense, he's been lightly targeted and Minnesota allows the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Vikings 20
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Buffalo @ NY Jets
The Bills lost C.J. Spiller (collarbone) for the season in Week 7, and Fred Jackson to a 4-6 week groin tear. Anthony Dixon took over as Buffalo's clear feature back in last Sunday's win over Minnesota, managing 66 yards on 16 touches. It's worth noting that Dixon ran just one pass route and pass blocked once in Buffalo's initial six games, which strongly suggests the coaching staff doesn't view him as a passing-game asset. The pass game is one of Bryce Brown's strengths. In PPR leagues, I'd take my chances with Brown's superior big-play ability and receiving tools as a waiver pickup, and as a Week 8 flex option. Dixon will likely be the Bills' interior grinder and favorite for goal-line work. ... The Jets played stout early-season run defense and still rank eighth against the run, but did have problems with Branden Oliver in Week 5, and Ronnie Hillman in Week 6. Over its last three games, New York has allowed Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots running backs to amass 352 yards on 84 carries (4.19 YPC). This isn't a favorable matchup for Brown and Dixon, but also isn't quite as imposing as it appeared a month ago. I'd still view Dixon as a touchdown-dependent flex play. Brown is the higher-ceiling gamble, albeit with a much lower floor. Buffalo has a Week 9 bye, followed by a juicy home date with the leaky Chiefs in Week 10. Fantasy leaguers with sturdier alternatives could put the Bills' backfield on a "wait-and-see" week, before targeting the Kansas City game for potential RB2 investment. Owners who added Brown should hope Dixon gets stuffed by the Jets, and Brown becomes "the guy" coming out of Buffalo's bye.
Kyle Orton deserves a lot of credit for turning around Buffalo's passing game in a three-week timeframe. He's 85-of-124 passing (68.5%) for 890 yards (7.18 YPA) with five touchdowns and three interceptions during that stretch. Although I'd still balk at streaming Orton as a QB1, he's earned a start in two-quarterback-leagues against a Jets defense that’s allowed a league-worst 18:1 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy passers, as well as an AFC-worst 108.3 passer rating. ... Orton's target distribution through three starts: Sammy Watkins 29; Scott Chandler 21; Robert Woods 19; F-Jax 18; Chris Hogan 14; Spiller 6; Marquise Goodwin and Dixon 4; Chris Gragg 3; Mike Williams 2. ... Aside from a 2-27-0 clunker against Darrelle Revis, Watkins' stat lines with Orton under center are 7-87-0 and 9-122-2. As the clear No. 1 option in an improved passing game facing a poor pass defense, Watkins has ascended to legitimate WR2 territory against Rex Ryan's undermanned secondary. ... Hogan is Buffalo's new slot receiver, Woods is the "Z" to Watkins' "X," and Chandler plays the majority of snaps in a tight end timeshare with Gragg. One of those three complementary role players will probably have a decent game against New York, but none of their skill levels merit fantasy ownership in 12- or even 14-team leagues.
The 40.5-point over-under on Bills-Jets is the lowest of Week 8, which is a concern for the fantasy outlook of all skill-position players involved. Although the Jets got productive rushing efforts from both Chris Ivory (21-107-1) and Chris Johnson (13-61-0) in last week's loss to New England, New York's ground game gets a far stiffer test versus Buffalo's top-four run defense, which has held opposing running backs to 490 scoreless yards on 153 carries (3.20 YPC) and ranks No. 3 in the NFL per Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. Tackle-shedding rookie Jerick McKinnon did drop 19-103 on the Bills last week, but the performances of all other backs against DC Jim Schwartz's defense suggest that was an outlier game. Ivory will probably be a touchdown-dependent flex play against a defense that still hasn't allowed a rushing TD on the season. Johnson has devolved into the lesser portion of New York's timeshare and would now need an Ivory injury to have any chance at being useful in fantasy leagues. ... Geno Smith is another player who deserves recognition for playing well against the Patriots. The sophomore passer managed OC Marty Mornhinweg's offense effectively in his first turnover-free outing of the year, making tough throws on the run and keeping the Jets competitive for most of the contest. Unfortunately, this is the sort of game where Smith tends to go back in the tank. The Bills have up-front personnel to make New York's offense one dimensional by eliminating the run, and lead the NFL in sacks (24). It's a good week to avoid Geno in two-quarterback leagues.
I wrote a column last week on the potential impact of Percy Harvin's addition to the Jets' offense, and what it means for every skill player involved. You can read it here. As for Harvin's Week 8 start-ability, I think in an ideal world fantasy owners would give him one game to see his usage, and avoid scenarios where Harvin might only play 30-40% of the snaps. (He was playing 60% in Seattle.) I do think Harvin will eventually become an 80% or so player in Mornhinweg's offense. In his first game with a new team, however, Harvin is a high-risk, low-floor WR3. ... The effect of "more single coverage" is usually overblown by fantasy observers. For Eric Decker, targets and health are much more important than any speculation that he might get more favorable coverage with Harvin on Gang Green. In the five weeks Decker has played most of the Jets' offensive snaps this year, his stat lines are 5-74-0, 4-63-1, 4-48-1, 6-54-1, and 4-65-0. Extrapolated over a 16-game season, those stats work out to 74-973-10. Although Decker has not had a huge game to wow us, he's scored like a strong WR3 and arguable WR2 whenever healthy. Decker played 75% of New York's Week 7 snaps, and his hamstring has likely benefited from an extra-long layoff following a Thursday night game. Decker is a good buy-low target in fantasy leagues. I like Decker as a WR3 with WR2 upside against Buffalo's No. 19 pass defense. ... Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland, and the rest of New York's role-playing pass catchers took a hit after the addition of Harvin and can be dropped in 12- and 14-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 17
Chicago @ New England
On a roll, in rhythm, and starring in an offense where he is the focal point after the year-ending loss of power back Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady has completed 70-of-109 passes (64.2%) for 914 yards (8.39 YPA) with nine touchdowns and zero picks over the past three weeks. He hasn't committed a single turnover during that span and has only taken four sacks after absorbing nine in New England's initial four games. Over the last month, Chicago's sub-par defense has been touched up by Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers for a combined 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 277 passing yards per game. Bears top corner Kyle Fuller will try to play through a hip pointer and fractured hand in Foxboro. I don't think Brady should be viewed as a top-shelf QB1 yet, but he's getting close. After a painfully slow start, New England's offense has proven to be flush with weapons and capable of attacking defenses as a pass-first unit. ... Brady's target distribution during his three-week hot run: Rob Gronkowski 30; Julian Edelman 29; Brandon LaFell 15; Shane Vereen 14; Tim Wright 6; Danny Amendola 4; James Develin 3; Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson 2. ... Restored as the Patriots' target leader, Gronk played a season-high 93% of New England's Week 7 snaps and should be at 100% health after an extra-long layoff following last Thursday's win over the Jets. Always weak at safety and still missing Lance Briggs (ribs) at linebacker, the Bears coughed up a combined 7-91-1 stat line to Dolphins TEs Charles Clay and Dion Sims last week, and an 8-88-2 number to Carolina's tight ends in Week 5. A Week 8 blowup-game candidate, Gronk is worth his price on FanDuel. ... Edelman is settling in as more of a WR3 in standard leagues after a deceptively fast start, but he's still on the WR2 fringe in PPR. He has at least four catches in every game this year and is on pace to grab 101. Edelman does have a fairly challenging matchup this week with savvy Bears LCB Tim Jennings.
The reliability of New England's pass catchers nosedives after Gronk and Edelman. LaFell's matchup would be improved if Fuller can't go, but his target totals are 4, 6, and 5 the past three weeks with stat lines of 1-20-0, 4-97-2, and 4-55-0. He's a fringe WR3, and LaFell's numbers will only fall if Amendola snipes any usage. Hardly utilized to this point, Amendola did score a 19-yard TD in last Thursday night's victory. ... Although Wright and Tyms are intriguing young talents, they are both bench or waiver-wire fodder in re-draft leagues. Wright's snap rates are 22%, 24%, and 33% over the Patriots' last three games, but his corresponding target totals are 5, 1, and 0. He's a sub-package role player. ... Tyms has played nine of a possible 135 snaps since returning from suspension two games ago. He has passed Dobson on the depth chart, but isn't even a re-draft WR5. ... In Ridley's (ACL) first game on I.R. last week, Vereen handled 80% of the downs, parlaying a season-high 16 touches into 114 total yards with two receiving TDs. The Pats won't utilize Vereen as a true workhorse on the ground, but he is capable of being a PPR machine, and is a strong flex play in standard leagues. Projecting consistency for any Pats running back is risky business, but Vereen has a legitimate shot. ... Practice squad callup Jonas Gray played ahead of Brandon Bolden against the Jets, but there doesn't appear to be stable value here. Gray rushed three times, gaining 12 yards. It doesn't help that Chicago's much-improved run defense has limited opposing tailbacks to 234 yards on 73 carries (3.21 YPC) over the last month. Gray is just a 14-team-league RB4/5. Bolden offers no fantasy appeal in his current role. Ballyhooed fourth-round rookie James White hasn't played on offense since Week 4.
Jay Cutler's on-field performance has left something to be desired, but he still ranks sixth in fantasy quarterback scoring and should be viewed as no worse than a top-ten QB1 in a game where the over-under is 50.5 points, third highest of Week 8. The Patriots technically rank No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense, but Geno Smith, Kyle Orton, and Alex Smith have all successfully moved their offenses through the air against Bill Belichick's unit over the past month, while Andy Dalton would've thrown three touchdown passes in Week 5 at Foxboro if not for a back-breaking end-zone drop by Jermaine Gresham. Cutler also gets significant relief from New England's loss of top pass rusher Chandler Jones, who will miss a month with a hip injury. On a personal note, I'm trying to decide between starting Cutler and Brady in one league this week. I chose wrong in Week 7, opting for Cutler. I'm probably going Brady this week, so perhaps you should fade my decision if you have the same dilemma. ... Cutler's Weeks 1-7 target distribution: Matt Forte 62; Martellus Bennett 58; Brandon Marshall 56; Alshon Jeffery 53; Santonio Holmes 13; Dante Rosario 10; Josh Morgan 8. ... As Marshall runs most of his routes against RCBs and slot corners, he will avoid Darrelle Revis' coverage if the Pats leave Revis at LCB, as they've done frequently this year. Revis could also end up shadowing Marshall all over the field, of course. I think fantasy owners' best course of action is to just start Marshall in a potential shootout and let the chips fall where they may. Marshall's 15 red-zone targets on the season rank second in the NFL, behind only Jordy Nelson's 16.
I've noticed some worry among Jeffery owners after his slowest game of the year. He was held to nine yards on seven targets on a bad day for Cutler, but did contribute a long pass-interference flag and has at least 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last five games. Jeffery hasn't suddenly evaporated from the Bears' offense. I like Jeffery as a WR2 against Revis and RCB Brandon Browner. If New England's cornerback duo holds Jeffery in check, he will become a recommended buy-low target entering Week 9. ... Scoreless since Week 3, Bennett is all settled in as a low-end fantasy TE1 with stat lines of 3-17-0, 4-52-0, and 5-58-0 over his last three games. The Pats have allowed the sixth most catches (35) and 10th most yards (423) in the league to tight ends, so this is a good week to play Martellus. He'll have an outside chance to lead Chicago in receiving if Browner, Revis, and slot CB Kyle Arrington cause problems for Marshall and Jeffery. ... The Bears' best means of Week 8 ball movement is still likely to be on the ground, where New England ranks 24th in run defense and permits 4.51 yards per carry to opposing running backs. One week after losing ILB Jerod Mayo for the year, the Patriots were exposed for 175 yards and a touchdown on 35 combined runs (5.00 YPC) by Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, and Bilal Powell last Thursday night. As usual, Forte is a top-three RB1 play for Week 8.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Bears 24
Seattle @ Carolina
This should be a big game for Seattle's offense against a collapsing collapsed Panthers defense that has surrendered offensive point totals of 38, 30, 24, 37, and 38 over its last five games. Although Seattle's offense started slow in last week's loss to St. Louis, Russell Wilson caught fire as the game progressed, rinsing the Rams for 419 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. No. 3 overall in per-game fantasy quarterback scoring -- behind only Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning -- Wilson is a top-shelf QB1 play in Carolina. ... Wilson's target distribution in his first post-Percy Harvin game: Doug Baldwin 11; Jermaine Kearse and Cooper Helfet 6; Paul Richardson 5; Robert Turbin 4; Marshawn Lynch 2; Kevin Norwood 1. ... Sliding back into his natural slot receiver role after being miscast at Golden Tate's old "X" position in Seattle's initial five games, Baldwin poured a season-best 7-123-1 stat line on the Rams, shredding Jeff Fisher's secondary at the short and intermediate levels. The Panthers are weak throughout the back end, but particularly at slot corner, where ex-safety Charles Godfrey was playing before being released this week. With Godfrey gone and rookie Bene Benwikere still nursing a high ankle sprain, Carolina’s Week 8 slot corner is unclear. Baldwin is more of a PPR than standard-league asset, but he's a reasonable WR3 play in this matchup. ... Now the Seahawks' clear-No. 1 perimeter receiver, Kearse is an interesting FanDuel tournament dart throw squaring off with Panthers LCB Antoine Cason. Incredibly, Cason has given up a touchdown in five consecutive games, and PFF charged him with 131 yards allowed in Week 7. Kearse is a better non-PPR play than Baldwin this week.
Second-round pick Richardson was the primary playing-time beneficiary of the Harvin move in last week's loss to the Rams. Taking over as Seattle’s No. 3 wideout, the rookie speedster played 43 snaps to Norwood's 7, Bryan Walters' 5, and Ricardo Lockette's 1. Unfortunately, Richardson managed 33 scoreless yards on five targets and is essentially the No. 5 option in OC Darrell Bevell's offense, behind the run game, Baldwin, Kearse, and the tight ends. Richardson has vertical speed and can remove the top from a defense, and I don't doubt he could break a few long plays in the second half of the season. But he'll be difficult to support as a re-draft-league play at any point, barring injury to Kearse and/or Baldwin. ... With Luke Willson (groin) due back this week, avoid chasing last week's 3-61-1 line from fill-in Helfet. In spite of all their defensive flaws, the Panthers allow the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Getting shredded by both run and pass games, Carolina has surrendered 709 yards and seven TDs on 126 carries (5.63 YPC) to Steelers, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, and Packers running backs over the past five weeks. Although Lynch has failed to pay off as a fantasy start in consecutive weeks, this projects as a surefire bounce-back game for him. The workload was there for Lynch against the Rams last week (20 touches); the efficiency just wasn't. Expect it to spike in this cake matchup.
I own Jay Cutler and Cam Newton in one re-draft league and am having a tough time deciding between the two. Ross Tucker suggested on this week's Fantasy Feast Podcast that the Panthers' offense looked so sluggish in last Sunday’s blowout loss to Green Bay because they essentially played five quarters in the previous week’s 37-37 tie with Cincinnati. That would make sense. Although his fantasy production has been more hit or miss, we have a much bigger 2014 sample size of Newton playing well on the field than not. I'm chalking up Week 7 as a one-game blip. I'm also leaning in Cutler's direction over Cam, but I think it's a legitimate debate. Over their last five games, the Seahawks have allowed Austin Davis, Kirk Cousins, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Tony Romo to combine to complete 118-of-174 passes (67.8%) against them for 1,275 yards (7.33 YPA) and an 11:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Simply unable to muster edge pressure, the Seahawks' defense pathetically ranks 30th in the NFL in sacks (7). Only the Rams and Raiders have fewer. "Vs. Seattle" looks imposing on a piece of paper, but Newton is a top-12 quarterback play this week. ... Cam's target distribution on the year: Kelvin Benjamin 50; Greg Olsen 47; Jerricho Cotchery 33; Jason Avant 31; Philly Brown 12; Brenton Bersin 10; Jonathan Stewart 6; Brandon Williams 1. ... The Seahawks resumed using Richard Sherman as a stationary LCB in last week's loss to St. Louis, and he held Kenny Britt to four yards on three targets. Benjamin gets almost all of his catches against RCBs and over the middle, so it's hard to say how much he'll see of Sherman in Sunday's game. Seattle's right corner will be second-year CB Tharold Simon with Byron Maxwell (calf) still on the shelf. Perhaps downgrade Benjamin from a borderline WR1 to WR2/3, but he'll continue to be a good weekly bet for touchdowns.
With SS Kam Chancellor taking a step back this year, the Seahawks' vulnerability to tight ends was reconfirmed in last week's loss to the Rams as St. Louis' TEs combined for a 6-51-1 stat line in a game where Austin Davis only attempted 20 passes. Seattle has allowed the third most fantasy points in the league to tight ends despite an early-season bye. Olsen is good to go as an every-week starter, and could be targeted more than usual on the off chance Sherman travels with Benjamin. ... The Seahawks' Week 7 usage of Sherman, of course, suggests the aforementioned scenario is unlikely, and Cotchery will probably end up in Shutdown Sherm's coverage for most of this one. Per Pro Football Focus, Sherman has permitted just 52.2% of the passes thrown at him to be completed this year, with one touchdown allowed. Some teams simply refuse to throw at Sherman, which obviously crushes fantasy production as well. Don't mess with him. ... While it wouldn't surprise to see Carolina have overall team passing success against the Seahawks, rushing effectiveness is highly unlikely. Per Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric, only Detroit is stouter up front than Seattle, which has limited opposing running backs to 480 yards and three TDs on 135 carries (3.56 YPC) this season. It certainly can't help that the Panthers will be without promising rookie RG Trai Turner (knee/ankle) in addition to starting LG Amini Silatolu (calf). J-Stew pitched a dud (13-50) in last week's clash with Green Bay's No. 31 run defense. The Seahawks rank No. 6.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 30, Panthers 23
Miami @ Jacksonville
With Jacksonville's defense quietly stiffening and Miami playing good defense all season long, it's not a big surprise that Fins-Jags has an anemic 42.5-point over-under. I'd take the under. ... Bear in mind it came against the Browns, Titans, and underachieving Steelers, but the Jaguars have allowed the fewest points per game (13.0) in football over the past three weeks. Although they've permitted a combined 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy passers, the Jags rank second in the NFL in sacks (22). This is a potential trap game for QB1 streamers considering Ryan Tannehill, who deserves credit for playing above average to well in three straight games but may not offer the ceiling some owners might perceive. His floor is raised by increased rushing usage, however. During that three-week stretch, athletic ex-college wideout Tannehill is averaging just under five scrambles for 44 yards per game. Tannehill is on pace for career bests in completion rate (63.3), passer rating (87.8), TD-to-INT ratio (27:14), and rushing yards (400) under rookie OC Bill Lazor. He's an every-week starter in two-QB leagues. ... All settled in as Miami's feature back, Lamar Miller posted season highs in carries (18) and all-purpose touches (20) in last week's win over the Bears, playing 61% of the Dolphins' snaps compared to Daniel Thomas' 34% and UDFA Damien Williams' 7%. Although Thomas mixed in for ten touches off the bench, Miller remained the lead back, including on Miami's fourth-quarter clock-killing drives. It was another promising effort for Miller's going-forward outlook, as the Dolphins removed his previous 15-carry cap and used him as a true foundation runner. The Jaguars' run defense is better than its No. 15 yards-allowed ranking indicates, but Miller is a locked-in RB2 at worst who will produce a number of RB1-caliber weeks the rest of the way. It's worth noting that Jacksonville has allowed a league-high 49 receptions to opposing backs. So even if Miller doesn't have a great day on the ground, he should atone with pass-game value.
Tannehill's target distribution this season: Mike Wallace 52; Charles Clay 32; Brian Hartline and Jarvis Landry 31; Miller 23; Brandon Gibson 13; Dion Sims 12; Rishard Matthews 8; Thomas 7. ... Ten of Wallace's 2014 targets have come inside the red zone, the most on the Dolphins. He'll continue to be a good bet for weekly touchdowns with room to grow on his catch and yardage pace stats of 80 and 957. With at least 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in every game this season, Wallace has earned legitimate WR1 treatment against the Jaguars' No. 30 pass defense. It only helps that Jaguars top CB Alan Ball (bicep) has been ruled out, and backup Dwayne Gratz (hip) is questionable. ... Looking spryer since Miami's Week 5 bye after an early-season knee injury, Clay gave the Bears' linebackers fits en route to a season-best 4-58-1 stat line in last week's victory. Clay has generated 49 yards after the catch in two games since the open date, after averaging just over 13 YAC per game in the initial four weeks. The Jags have tightened up their tight end coverage in recent games, but have still allowed the sixth most fantasy points in the league to the position. You could do much worse than Clay as a TE1 streamer. ... The rise of rookie slot receiver Landry has rendered Hartline irrelevant in fantasy leagues. Catch-less in Week 6 and targeted just three times in Week 7, Hartline was safe to drop weeks ago, even in 14- and 16-team leagues. ... Despite a speed deficiency (4.77 40), Landry leads the NFL in kickoff return average (31.2) among returners with at least ten attempts, and has made Gibson a complete non-factor on offense. Landry is a WR4 in standard and PPR leagues, but should be a locked-in WR3 for return-yardage leaguers the rest of the way. He also returns punts for the Dolphins.
Despite last week's impressive win over Cleveland, the Vegas sharps aren't optimistic about Jacksonville's offense entering Week 8, where Miami is a six-point road favorite in a game with a low over-under. Try to contain your excitement about Jags skill-position players, assuming you had any. This could be a really long day for Blake Bortles & Co. ... Where the Dolphins have a major advantage is in the trenches. Struggling Jags LT Luke Joeckel will have his hands full with severely underrated Fins RE Olivier Vernon, while OC Jedd Fisch will almost certainly have to give RT Austin Pasztor help against dominant LE Cameron Wake. Miami brings a devastating three-way rotation on the interior of Jared Odrick, Randy Starks, and Earl Mitchell, while inside-out reserve Derrick Shelby has three sacks over his last two games. I'm skeptical the Jags' offense will move at all against this front. I'd rather start the Dolphins' fantasy defense than Bortles in a two-QB league. ... Denard Robinson has definitely earned more work after capitalizing on his opportunity in last week's win over the Browns. But Robinson's game needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Cleveland was without four of its top five defensive linemen, including LE Phil Taylor and NT Ahtyba Rubin, who combine to weigh over 650 pounds. For the first time all season, the Jaguars' offensive line was able to create movement in the run game. On the season, Miami has limited enemy tailbacks to 501 yards on 135 carries (3.71 YPC) and has enormous advantages on Jacksonville up front. I can't help but think Robinson won't do much this week. Beyond the Cleveland game, Robinson has 94 scoreless yards on 28 rushing attempts (3.36 YPC) this season. He's also used sparingly in the passing game.
Due back from his foot injury versus Miami, Toby Gerhart's return could throw another wrench into Robinson's workload. At very least, Gerhart is a better short-yardage option than shiftier Shoelace. ... Bortles' target distribution since Cecil Shorts returned from his hamstring injury two games ago: Shorts 25; Allen Robinson 16; Clay Harbor 10; Allen Hurns 6; Marqise Lee 5; Shoelace and Jordan Todman 4; Ace Sanders 2; Storm Johnson 1. ... Despite last week's foreseeable 3-12-0 clunker against Joe Haden, Shorts is the favorite for targets and catches in Jacksonville and is worth a look for PPR owners as a WR3. Shorts' matchup is improved by Dolphins LCB Brent Grimes' thigh injury. Grimes is expected to play, but may not be 100%. Because Fisch will surely call plays conservatively, Shorts should see significant volume on high-percentage routes. ... I liked Robinson last week and he delivered with his first career touchdown, but I don't like him as much against Miami. With Shorts back in the fold, Robinson is running routes that take a bit longer to develop, and I don't think Bortles will have much time to throw against the Dolphins’ pass rush. ... Harbor has a middling matchup against a Dolphins defense allowing the 15th most fantasy points to tight ends, and the Jaguars are unlikely to be in scoring position much Sunday, limiting Harbor's touchdown potential. Harbor isn't an attractive streamer this week. ... Hurns played a season-low 39 snaps in last week's win over the Browns, sharing sub-package receiver duties with Lee (14) and to a lesser extent Sanders (5). None of the Jaguars' backup wideouts is worth rostering in 14- or 16-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 20, Jaguars 13
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
Having survived UDFA LT James Hurst's rocky four-game stint, the Ravens will welcome back Eugene Monroe (knee) on Joe Flacco's blind side in Cincy, in addition to difference-making LG Kelechi Osemele (knee) following a two-game absence. Despite O-Line musical chairs, Flacco has flourished in new Ravens OC Gary Kubiak's quarterback-friendly system, compiling a 14:5 TD-to-INT ratio through seven games with career highs in completion rate (63.7), YPA (7.57), and passer rating (97.2). He's the No. 9 overall fantasy quarterback. Flacco had trouble against the Bengals in this year's Week 1 meeting, but Cincinnati's defense has regressed sharply since. Over the past three weeks, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck have lit up DC Paul Guenther's unit for 79-of-123 passing (64.2%), 920 yards (7.48 YPA) and a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. The Bengals have just three sacks during that three-game stretch, enduring myriad injuries at linebacker and consistently getting pushed around up front. Flacco is still a relatively low-end QB1 option, but he's a high-end two-quarterback-league start in a game where Baltimore should have offensive success. ... The Ravens are even more likely to dust the Bengals on the ground, where Cincy ranks dead last in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. Cincinnati has been pounded by enemy running backs for 672 yards on 140 carries this season (4.80 YPC). For a snapshot of the Bengals' leakiness, Trent Richardson's 5.5 YPC average against them last week was T-Rich's best in any game where he's received at least 10 carries since Week 2 of his 2012 rookie year. Justin Forsett is limited to RB2 fantasy stock because he loses goal-line carries to Bernard Pierce, but he's a recommended start in this cakewalk matchup.
Flacco's target distribution through seven games: Steve Smith Sr. 60; Torrey Smith 39; Owen Daniels 36; Forsett 28; Kyle Juszczyk 13; Jacoby Jones 12; Kamar Aiken 10; Marlon Brown 7. ... Although Torrey's production has picked up in recent games -- he has four touchdowns over the last month -- his on-field usage hasn't changed. He's still a boom-or-bust WR3, and in Week 8 takes on a Bengals defense against which Smith has managed stat lines of 3-50-0, 3-27-0, 5-46-1, 0-0, and 2-57-0 in these clubs' last five meetings. Torrey's target counts have hovered between three and eight all year. He's only cleared 55 yards once in seven games. ... While Torrey was quiet in the Week 1 date, Steve Sr. went off for 7-118-1 on 14 targets and bodied Bengals RCB Pacman Jones on an 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown. Steve Sr.'s targets are down in recent weeks, but he was never going to maintain his early-season pace, and he's still the No. 7 overall fantasy wideout over the past five weeks. He's an every-week WR2. ... In the Week 1 game -- when Cincinnati's defense was stronger than it is now -- then-healthy Dennis Pitta combined with Daniels to pour 14 catches and 117 yards on Guether's group. On the season, the Bengals have allowed the most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Now in sole possession of Ravens tight end duties, it's a good week to stream Daniels on paper. Daniels (knee) was held out of practice all week, however. The Ravens claim he missed for precautionary reasons, but it's a situation to monitor into Sunday morning.
Saturday Update: Daniels had his knee scoped Friday and has been ruled out. He will probably miss 2-4 weeks. The Ravens will turn to 6-foot-6, 260-pound third-round rookie Crockett Gillmore at tight end against the Bengals. Gillmore has mostly been a blocker in Baltimore's offense to this point, but did play a season-high 65% of the snaps in last week's win over Atlanta, and could come close to 90% in Week 8 against a defense that hemorrhages fantasy points to tight ends. Gillmore is big, sneaky athletic, and plays in a tight end-friendly offense. He's definitely worth a look for TE1 streamers.
Unable to protect their leaky defense with a power run game and limited in the passing game with or without A.J. Green (toe), the once 3-0 Bengals have fallen back to the pack with blowout losses in two of their last three games, and a tie in between. Expect more run-game struggles against a Baltimore defense getting standout play up front and from ILBs C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. The Ravens have held opposing running backs to 538 yards and just two touchdowns on 136 carries (3.96 YPC) this season. In the aforementioned Week 1 game, Bengals OC Hue Jackson attacked the Ravens in a shotgun-spread style offense, but no longer has the horses for that approach with Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones on the shelf, and Green hobbled. Giovani Bernard is the No. 8 overall fantasy back in per-game scoring and an every-week starter, but it's hard to imagine him having much rushing success Sunday. Fantasy owners will have to hope he gets goal-line chances and/or racks up catches versus Baltimore. Although Bernard's PPR production has disappointed -- he's on pace for fewer receptions than last year -- he did have a season-high six grabs against Baltimore on Opening Day. ... Cincinnati opened training camp flush with weapons. They have few to none at this point, and Andy Dalton's production has correspondingly fallen off a cliff after finishing 2013 as a top-five fantasy quarterback. He's 23rd overall this year with one or fewer touchdowns in 4-of-6 games. Baltimore is tied with Detroit for the fewest passing scores allowed in football (7) and ranks first in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metric. This figures to be another long day at the office for Dalton, who is an underwhelming two-QB-league option.
Saturday Update: Keep in mind I wrote this passage on Thursday, when it still appeared Green had a chance to play. On Friday, he was listed as doubtful on the injury report. Expect Mohamed Sanu to continue to handle No. 1 receiver responsibilities against Baltimore. Sanu continues to be a good bet for targets, but has struggled to separate against perimeter cornerbacks and will have his hands full Sunday with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. He's an unexciting WR3/flex option.
Green will apparently try to play, although his availability will most likely be a game-time decision. I'd consider him a must-start WR2 if active Sunday morning, and he'll obviously ascend back to WR1 stock once he shows an ability to play effectively for a full game. Here is the Bengals' target distribution in the three games where Green has been a factor this year: Green 25; Mohamed Sanu 22; Bernard 16; Jermaine Gresham 10; Brandon Tate 7; Jeremy Hill 4. ... Sanu's receiving lines in those games are 4-36-0, 5-44-0, and 5-70-1. He's a sensible WR3 play when Green misses games, but a WR4/5 with Green on the inactives list. ... Gresham is averaging three fantasy points per game in non-PPR leagues. Not remotely the athlete he was billed to be coming out of Oklahoma, Gresham was held to 48 yards on ten receptions in last week's blowout loss to Indianapolis, which looks like a running back's carry and yardage total. The Ravens permit the fifth fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. ... Ryan Forbes, John Sarmento, and I discussed Eifert's promising Week 1 usage on this week's 2 Mugs Podcast. Eifert was a huge part of Jackson's Week 1 game plan (3-37) before dislocating his elbow in the first half. If you need tight end help, Eifert is a recommended forward-thinking pickup. He is tentatively expected to return against New Orleans in Week 11, and will have a lot of opportunity due to Cincinnati's wide receiver shortage. The Bengals don't play many good defenses down the stretch.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Bengals 17
Houston @ Tennessee
The Titans' transition to Zach Mettenberger at quarterback is the latest in a string of Tennessee's "playing the pups" approach, after promoting Bishop Sankey and Justin Hunter into the starting lineup. A strong-armed but athletically-challenged prospect, Mettenberger to some extent is this year's version of Mike Glennon. Based on his college film, Mettenberger is willing to pull the trigger on difficult throws and has the arm talent to make them. He's also likely to be mistake prone. Albeit against backup defenses, Mettenberger completed 47-of-68 (69.1%) preseason passes for 659 yards (9.7 YPA), two touchdowns, and two picks. He also lost three fumbles and took seven sacks. Jake Locker is safe to drop in two-QB leagues. ... A major concern for the entirety of Tennessee's offense is the matchup of J.J. Watt against Titans RT Michael Oher, who's been as abysmal as expected in Nashville. Oher currently ranks 66th in PFF's offensive tackle grades, among 71 qualifiers. Particularly if Jadeveon Clowney (knee) returns this week, the Texans' defense is a viable Week 8 streamer. ... Although projecting any modicum of immediate success for a sixth-round rookie quarterback would require a leap of faith, Mettenberger's insertion theoretically bodes well for Justin Hunter, a vertical receiver who now has a vertical-armed quarterback at the controls. One of Mettenberger's two preseason TD passes was a 64-yard catch-and-run dart to Hunter. Hunter's outlook hasn't radically changed -- he's still a boom-or-bust WR3 -- but it isn't hurt, either. He needs a passer willing to give him chances to make plays in the air, and Mettenberger is capable of being that guy. Recent enemy No. 1 receiver stat lines against the Texans: 9-112-1 (James Jones); 5-107-1 (Victor Cruz); 4-30-1 (Sammy Watkins); 9-85-1 (Dez Bryant); 9-223-1 (T.Y. Hilton); 9-90-0 (Antonio Brown).
The effect of Mettenberger on Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker is impossible to project with any hint of confidence. Mettenberger could energize Tennessee's offense, or he could be a disaster. We'll just have to see how it plays out. Ideally, fantasy owners of Wright and Walker would put them on a "wait-and-see" week against the Texans, and reevaluate based on the results. ... In Sankey's best to-date opportunity to shine, Tennessee hosts Houston on a short week and without ILB Brian Cushing (knee), whose absence will force the Texans to turn to Mike Mohamed and Justin Tuggle at inside linebacker. Even with Cushing on the field, Houston has permitted 756 yards and four touchdowns on 176 runs (4.30 YPC) to enemy tailbacks. This is a below-average run defense, and the Titans will surely want to run the football with volume and effectiveness in their rookie quarterback's first significant exposure to the NFL. Sankey has disappointed in the Titans' lead back role, but is worth a look as a Week 8 flex, even if he isn't a particularly high-upside option. Sankey has lost goal-line opportunities to FB Jackie Battle and still isn't trusted in the passing game, where he's rarely allowed to pass block and dropped his lone target in last week's loss to Washington. ... Shonn Greene is due back from his hamstring injury against the Texans, but had carry totals of 5, 10, 3, and 11 in his four pre-injury games and hasn't caught a single pass this season. Greene obviously isn't worth adding in 12-team fantasy leagues, but he is a potential threat to Sankey's carries, even if it's in a designated "big back" role. Greene figures to handle short-yardage and goal-line work over Battle.
I actually think both defenses in this game are worth looks as Week 8 streamers. The over-under is 42points – second lowest of the week -- and Tennessee is at home facing turnover-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick. Although it came against the Jaguars and Redskins, the Titans have allowed fewer than 20 points in back-to-back games, are tied for third in the NFL in interceptions (8), and rank in the top ten in sacks (18). FitzMagic has eight turnovers over the past five weeks. The Titans do not have a good defense, but they've been somewhat disruptive, and Fitzpatrick could make them look good in this game. ... Tennessee isn't as bad in run defense as it may be perceived -- they've held opposing running backs to a combined 3.97 YPC average -- but Arian Foster is running as well as any back in football while averaging 24 touches with five all-purpose TDs over his last three games. The Titans are playing 3-4 defense under first-year DC Ray Horton, and 3-4s historically have trouble against zone-run schemes like the Texans'. Fire up Foster. ... Alfred Blue flukily caught a Week 7 touchdown pass against Pittsburgh, which is his lone reception since Foster got healthy three weeks ago. Blue is averaging under five carries per game during that stretch. He's just a low-ceiling handcuff for Foster owners.
FitzMagic's Weeks 1-7 target distribution: Andre Johnson 63; DeAndre Hopkins 42; Foster 30; Garrett Graham 17; Damaris Johnson 16; Blue 5. ... Johnson and Hopkins move around and ultimately play on both sides of the formation depending on personnel package, but Johnson still gets a majority of his catches against opposing right cornerbacks. Titans RCB Blidi Wreh-Wilson has received negative grades from PFF in all but one of his last five games, coughing up four touchdown passes during that span. He was victimized on Pierre Garcon's 70-yard score last week. This is a great matchup for Andre, who despite Hopkins' sophomore-year emergence continues to dominate targets in the Texans' pass-catcher corps. It helps that Houston lacks a capable third receiver or tight end. ... While Andre should be locked into lineups as a WR2, Hopkins is an every-week WR3. He will get chances against Wreh-Wilson in this game, and Titans LCB Jason McCourty isn't having a good year, either. It isn't Hopkins' production that renders him more third-fantasy receiver than second. It's his inconsistent usage, as "Nuk" has six or fewer targets in 5-of-7 games this season. Hopkins has shown game-breaking big-play ability and is still only 22 years old. Johnson turned 33 in July. Dynasty owners of Hopkins should be smitten. ... The Titans allow the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends, but Graham has been a disappointment in both real life and fantasy. Re-signed by the Bill O'Brien regime to play a key pass-catcher role, Graham has instead failed to reach 50 receiving yards in all six of his 2014 appearances. He would be better suited as an NFL backup.
Score Prediction: Texans 20, Titans 17
St. Louis @ Kansas City
Committed to the run in last week's dominant win over San Diego, normally pass-happy Chiefs coach Andy Reid saddled up hammerhead fullback Anthony Sherman in front of Jamaal Charles and let the duo work. The results were 22-95-1 for Charles, 11 touches for Knile Davis, and a 39:21 time-of-possession advantage, beating the ball-control Bolts at their own game. Since returning from his high ankle sprain in Week 4, Charles has amassed 267 yards and two TDs on 55 runs (4.85 YPC) with two more touchdowns as a receiver. The Rams rank 28th in run defense and have allowed a league-high nine carries of 20-plus yards, despite an early-season bye. After a slow start, Kansas City's offensive line has benefited from continuity and quietly ascended to No. 10 overall in Football Outsiders' run-blocking grades. Charles is an obvious top-shelf RB1 and I think he's worth his price on FanDuel, especially in cash games. ... It's become clear that Davis will get more work when game flow allows. But game flow is hard to predict, and therefore so is Davis' week-to-week role. His carry totals with Charles healthy this year are 1, 16, 2, and 10. Davis is more RB3/4 stash than flex option. ... Among the many things St. Louis does poorly is defend the pass, where Tony Romo, Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson have pasted DC Gregg Williams' unit for 87-of-131 passing (66.4%), 1,080 yards (8.24 YPA), and a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio over its last four games. Wilson added 7-106-1 on the ground last week, and Alex Smith can run a little bit too. Rare is the week I recommend Smith as a QB1 streamer, but this is one. The Rams are downright pitiful, only able to stay competitive in games with fluke trick plays. Week 7 game watchers know what I mean.
Smith's target distribution since Charles got healthy three games ago: Dwayne Bowe 19; Travis Kelce 16; Charles 11; Anthony Fasano 9; Junior Hemingway 6; A.J. Jenkins 5; Davis and Anthony Sherman 4; Frankie Hammond 3. ... Although Bowe's targets are on the rise, he's only been targeted twice in the red zone this season, which helps explain his lack of touchdowns. Kelce has six red-zone targets. Bowe makes some sense as a WR3 option because this matchup is so favorable, but his to-date production and usage in scoring position suggest Bowe has a capped ceiling. Of course, if Bowe is going to hit pay dirt in 2014, this week is as good a bet as any. Stat lines of the last four No. 1 receivers to play St. Louis: 7-123-1 (Doug Baldwin), 3-49-1 (Michael Crabtree), 5-76-1 (Jeremy Maclin), 6-89-1 (Dez Bryant). ... Shaping up as more of a mid-range to low-end TE1 despite the elite-starter ability he's clearly shown, Kelce only played 53% of the offensive snaps coming off Kansas City's Week 6 bye. In other words, the Chiefs adjusted Kelce's role in no way during a golden opportunity to up his playing time. St. Louis is 22nd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. The limitations on Kelce's usage will likely continue to cause frustration, mixed in with blowup weeks. Fantasy owners will have to ride it out.
Via ESPN's Nick Wagoner, this was coach Jeff Fisher's assessment of the Rams' Week 7 carry distribution immediately after last Sunday's win over Seattle: “We’re going to play all three backs. I have great respect for all three of them, and Trey Watts for that matter. They are very unselfish, they root each other on. Tre (Tre Mason) got a hot hand and it was just kind of a different thing. We felt that we may have a chance to crease their defense at times with him." These were Fisher's comments as the practice week opened on Wednesday: “It’ll be a week-to-week thing. Zac (Zac Stacy) could get 25 carries this week. We had some things in early this week (against Seattle). It was working so we decided to stay with 'Mase'. It’s nothing that Zac has done or hasn’t done. He’s been a little banged up the last couple of weeks, but obviously he’s an outstanding runner as well. We clearly have significant depth there at the position.” Kansas City is vulnerable to the run -- 5.17 YPC allowed to enemy tailbacks -- but the workload is difficult to project. Despite Mason's effectiveness and ballooning usage the past two weeks, the Rams seem committed to an in-game "hot-hand" approach that also involves Benny Cunningham, and perhaps even Watts. Although Mason is currently the best bet for carries, his pass-protection deficiency will limit his playing time, especially when St. Louis falls behind on the scoreboard, and it's entirely possible Stacy or Cunningham could display a "hotter hand" in any given game. Mason also lost a fumble late in last week's win that might have cost St. Louis the game had Seattle recovered. You're on your own trying to chase the Rams' backfield in Week 8.
The Chiefs' No. 2 pass-defense ranking is deceiving because they've faced the third fewest pass attempts per game in the NFL, but they do have an imposing edge-rush trio of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and first-round pick Dee Ford, and will likely give Austin Davis problems at raucous Arrowhead Stadium. Davis deserves recognition for playing well for the most part this season, but the Rams would ideally utilize him as a low-volume game manager like they did last week, when Davis managed 20 pass attempts against the Seahawks and protected the ball. For St. Louis to be a truly competitive team, they need a consistent, voluminous running game and for their defense to control opposing offenses. Davis has earned every-week consideration in two-quarterback leagues, but this isn't the week to stream him as a QB1. ... Davis' target distribution through six games (five starts): Jared Cook 43; Brian Quick 32; Kenny Britt 24; Lance Kendricks and Cunningham 20; Stacy 15; Tavon Austin 13; Chris Givens 7; Stedman Bailey 3. ... A seam-runner tight end and not a contested-catch winner, Cook still hasn't scored a touchdown this season and now has just 13 in 81 career games, "good" for an average of under three TDs per 16. The Chiefs give up the fewest receptions and second fewest yards in the league to tight ends. ... Although Quick’s usage and production have slowed over his last two games, he has played 92% of St. Louis' offensive snaps during that span, and the Rams have the toughest run-defense schedule in football the rest of the way. This is a good time to buy on Quick if you need WR3 help in 12- and 14-team leagues, and also to pursue him in Dynasty, where his current owner may not have fully bought in yet. Quick is just a WR3 option against tough Chiefs RCB Sean Smith, but remains a huge part of the Rams' passing offense and is a good bet to finish strong. ... Despite his 6-foot-3, 218-pound frame, Britt has been targeted once in the red zone all season. The Rams apparently view him as a team leader.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 23, Rams 14
4:05PM ET Game
Philadelphia @ Arizona
Three games this week have over-unders of 50-plus points. I was surprised to see Eagles-Cardinals at only 48. I'd bang the over on this game with Philadelphia returning from a bye and getting healthier on the offensive line, and Carson Palmer once again firing strikes on Arizona's side. ... I loved this quote on Cardinals coach Bruce Arians from ESPN's Trent Dilfer following last Monday night's game coverage. "This guy is a straight ball coach, and everything he touches turns to gold." Indeed, Arians' team and offense are rolling with Palmer back in the saddle. Through three 2014 starts, Palmer is 74-of-112 passing (66.1%) for 807 yards (7.21 YPA) with a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Philadelphia ranks 23rd against the pass with a 13:3 TD-to-INT ratio allowed and is heavily reliant on blitzes, which frequently leaves its back end exposed. In a home game with a plus matchup and all of his supporting cast healthy, Palmer is a certified fantasy QB1 in this game. I'm starting him in several spots. ... Palmer's target distribution on the year: Andre Ellington 23; Michael Floyd 17; John Brown 16; Larry Fitzgerald 15; John Carlson 11; Rob Housler and Stepfan Taylor 7; Ted Ginn 4. ... Floyd's three stat lines in Palmer's starts are 5-119-0, 4-47-1, and 3-47-1, which would extrapolate to 64-1,136-11 over a full 16-game campaign. After going beastmode to out-muscle Raiders RCB Tarell Brown for a 33-yard touchdown in last week's victory, Floyd remains a recommended trade target for fantasy teams in need of a stretch-run WR2 difference maker. Floyd’s trade availability may evaporate after taking on burnable Eagles CBs Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams in Week 8. ... Brown's three stat lines with Palmer under center are 2-29-1, 4-43-0, and 2-41-0. Although weekly inconsistency is a virtual lock for Brown, the 4.34 speedster rookie will run more routes against Fletcher and Williams than Fitzgerald, and offers a higher ceiling than Arizona's veteran wideout in this particular week.
Fitz has the toughest Week 8 matchup in the Cardinals' receiver corps. He'll take on stingy Eagles slot CB Brandon Boykin on a majority of pass patterns. Per PFF, Boykin hasn't allowed a single touchdown this season and is limiting quarterbacks to a 54.2 completion rate on throws into his coverage. Combined, Williams and Fletcher have coughed up six touchdowns, with five coming in their last four games. ... Tougher in run defense, Eagles DC Billy Davis' unit has held opposing running backs to 607 yards and just two touchdowns on 159 carries (3.82 YPC) through six games. Ellington is more than capable of paying fantasy dividends in the receiving game, but seems unlikely to have a ton of success on the ground. He was also vultured twice by Stepfan Taylor in last week's Black Hole win, once on a four-yard carry and again on a two-yard speed out. Ellington claimed afterwards that he "tapped out," but the Cards have been pulling him in favor of bigger backs in scoring position for most of the season. He's just an RB2 in standard leagues, but still a borderline RB1 in PPR. ... Despite last week's two scores, Taylor is a low-ceiling Ellington handcuff as the lesser half of Arizona's committee. He would probably share time with Marion Grice if something happened to Ellington. Against the Eagles, plodding Taylor is not a standalone flex option. Avoid chasing last week's points.
The Eagles owe the Giants a Christmas card for playing nickel as their base Week 6 defense, giving Philadelphia's running game a much-needed kick start. The G-Men basically begged LeSean McCoy to run on them and he did, setting season highs in rushing yards (149) and YPC average (6.8) in the 27-0 blowout. Even when his run game was struggling, Eagles coach Chip Kelly stuck with it, and McCoy enters Week 8 averaging 19.3 carries per game. Philly's O-Line is also slowly piecing back together. RT Lane Johnson is back and rolling, while C Jason Kelce (sports hernia) and LG Evan Mathis (MCL) are both scheduled to return within the next three weeks. Although McCoy may not average a high yards per carry against Arizona's top-ranked run defense, Kelly's run-game commitment bodes well, the blocking has improved, and McCoy's confidence level should be up coming off his best game. Start him against the Cardinals. ... Also working to McCoy's advantage may be Darren Sproles' MCL sprain, suffered just before the open date. Sproles is tentatively expected to be active in the desert, but his role could be scaled back, resulting in a bit more work for Philadelphia's feature back. Only averaging eight touches per game on the season, Sproles is not a recommended flex option in Week 8. His hot start has proven to be a flash in the pan. ... Nick Foles has the best outlook among Eagles skill-position players, taking on an Arizona defense that ranks 31st against the pass and tied for 30th in sacks (7). The opportunistic Cardinals do have eight interceptions and have played surprisingly competitive defense thanks to DC Todd Bowles' impressive scheming, but pose an attractive matchup for enemy quarterbacks. Devoid of intimidating edge rushers, Arizona is heavily reliant on blitzes that leave the back end vulnerable.
Foles' target distribution on the season: Jeremy Maclin 60; Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews 37; Zach Ertz 31; Sproles 25; McCoy 17; Brent Celek 15. ... I wouldn't be surprised to see the Eagles pursue more passing-game balance coming off their bye week, but to this point it's been Maclin, and then everyone else. Ninth among all wide receivers in per-game fantasy scoring, Maclin is a WR1 play against severely overrated Cardinals LCB Patrick Peterson, who's allowed four touchdown passes through six games and ranks 85th among 106 qualifying cornerbacks in PFF's coverage grades. ... Starting Ertz requires a leap of faith at this point -- he's averaging an incredibly disappointing 5.2 targets per week and has only played 41% of Philly's offensive snaps the past two games -- but Ertz is worth a look as a TE1 streamer against a Cardinals defense allowing the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends. If any Eagles skill player deserves an increased role coming off the bye, it's Ertz. ... Although he has flashed big-time ability, Matthews is another limited-snap player in Kelly's offense whose pass-game usage has been frustratingly inconsistent. On pace for a 62-604-6 receiving line, Matthews is a fantasy WR4/5. ... A poor man's Malcom Floyd, Cooper is dependent on long pass plays and random touchdowns as a lightly-targeted role player. Cooper will run most of his Week 8 routes at Cardinals RCB Antonio Cromartie, who offers size (6'2/208) to match up competently with 6-foot-3, 222-pound Cooper, and is a much better all-around athlete. Cooper is a low-floor dart throw in Arizona.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 28, Eagles 24
4:25PM ET Games
Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
The over-under on Colts-Steelers opened at 47.5, which seemed conservative to me. It's since moved to 49 points. There are holes in Indy's defense, but not many in their offense, and I don't think they'll struggle to pour points on a Pittsburgh defense that generates little pressure and can't stop the run. Andrew Luck will face DC Dick LeBeau's unit on a short week after Pittsburgh's Monday night win over the Texans. Only Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback play than Luck among Sunday and Monday's games. Through seven weeks, machine-like Luck is on pace for 48 all-purpose touchdowns and is averaging 347 total yards per game. ... Luck's Weeks 1-7 target distribution: T.Y. Hilton 68; Reggie Wayne 62; Dwayne Allen 33; Hakeem Nicks 32; Ahmad Bradshaw and Coby Fleener 30; Trent Richardson 24; Donte Moncrief 11; Jack Doyle 9. ... Stuffing box scores, Hilton has 80 or more yards in five straight games and will run most of his Week 8 routes against Steelers whipping-boy LCB Cortez Allen, who's been torched on a weekly basis. Allen was reportedly going to be benched for Brice McCain last week, but still got the start and was predictably lit up by the Texans' wideouts. Among 106 qualifiers, Allen is 106th in Pro Football Focus' cornerback grades. This is yet another potential blowup spot for T.Y. ... With Reggie Wayne (elbow) not expected to play, the Colts may give Hilton a few more slot snaps and/or use Griff Whalen inside. From a forward-thinking standpoint, it's worth noting Wayne has three TDs over his last 16 games and one on the 2014 season. Based on Wayne's recent inefficiency, it wouldn't surprise if Hilton continued to distance himself in Indy's top-receiver role as the season progressed.
The Steelers have allowed the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, creating a favorable matchup for Allen and Fleener. Although Allen's targets continue to frustrate -- he's averaging under five per game -- he has scored a touchdown in four of the past five weeks and isn't going away as a preferred red-zone option for Luck. Even with a limited ceiling due to low volume, Allen is a quality TE1. ... More lightly targeted than Allen, Fleener is TD-dependent to the extreme and will hurt you in streamer spots if he doesn't score. He's hit pay dirt in 3-of-7 weeks this year, and has just the three TDs over his last 12 games dating back to last regular season. Owners especially desperate at tight end could hope Wayne's absence leads to an increased role for Fleener as opposed to Moncrief or Whalen. ... Nicks played a season-low 19 snaps in last week's win over the Bengals, while rookie Moncrief stepped up for 23 downs. Moncrief should be owned in all Dynasty leagues and is now worth a look in 14- and 16-team re-draft formats. He's Luck's "X" wideout of the future, with Hilton as the movable "Z." GM Ryan Grigson's latest third-receiver whiff, Nicks is safe to drop across the board. ... Pittsburgh's soft defense has allowed 719 yards and six touchdowns on 157 carries (4.58 YPC) to enemy tailbacks. Despite the plus matchup, T-Rich remains a risky flex option coming off a hamstring injury and continuing to lose fantasy-friendly touches to Bradshaw. Richardson did have his most productive rushing effort in years during last week's blowout win over the Bengals, but keep it in perspective. From an efficiency standpoint, Cincinnati has the NFL's worst run defense. ... Will Bradshaw's TD rate regress? Probably, but probably not to the extent that he's ever worse than a low-end RB2/high-end flex. The Colts' go-to back in scoring position, Bradshaw leads all running backs in red-zone targets (11), and entered Week 8 ninth in the entire NFL behind Jordy Nelson (16), Brandon Marshall (15), Rueben Randle (14), Antonio Brown (12), Steve Smith Sr. (12), Randall Cobb (12), Julius Thomas (12), and Demaryius Thomas (12).
Friday Update: Richardson's balky hamstring kept him out of each of the Colts' practices this week. If he does not play, Bradshaw would figure to get a slight boost in touches, but Dan "Boom" Herron would likely be the primary playing-time beneficiary. I highly doubt the Colts would overwork Bradshaw considering his injury history; Indianapolis is a Super Bowl contender and needs its best back healthy. Herron could be a sneaky flex option in 14- and 16-team leagues if T-Rich is declared inactive Sunday morning. A rock-solid second-year back in the vein of Branden Oliver, Herron has 62 yards on 13 carries (4.8 YPC) this regular season, is functional in the passing game, and has a great matchup. For what it's worth, Herron stood out in preseason games, rushing for 112 yards on 22 carries with 11 catches for 55 yards and a score. I've secretly wondered if he might be a better option for the Colts in T-Rich's current role to this point.
Feeding Le'Veon Bell would be a good means of not only protecting the Steelers' leaky defense, but of keeping Luck off the field. Although Le'Veon's rushing usage has frustrated at times this year -- he hasn't hit 20 carries since Week 3 -- Bell has over 100 total yards in 7-of-7 games, is averaging 5.12 YPC on 117 rushing attempts, and is on pace for 83 receptions. He's a top-shelf RB1 against a Colts defense that's surrendered 478 yards and six touchdowns on 102 carries (4.69 YPC) to running backs over the last six weeks. Only Cleveland and Cincinnati rank lower than Indy in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. ... Indianapolis impressively ranks No. 5 in the NFL in pass defense despite the losses of OLB Robert Mathis (Achilles') and SS LaRon Landry (suspension). I'm still not convinced this is a unit to fear. The Colts are facing the ninth fewest pass attempts per game in the league while leading the NFL in time of possession, which skews many of their team-defense stats. I'm starting Carson Palmer over Ben Roethlisberger in the one league where I own Big Ben this week, but I don't think he's an awful QB1 play. I like this game's chances of becoming high scoring, and the Colts don't use stationary RCB Vontae Davis in a manner that would deter top wideout Antonio Brown, who runs short and intermediate patterns all over the field and will rarely if ever line up against Davis in isolation. Roethlisberger should definitely be fired up in two-quarterback leagues.
Big Ben's target distribution in Weeks 1-7: Antonio Brown 74; Bell 43; Markus Wheaton 41; Heath Miller 36; Justin Brown 21; Lance Moore 9; LeGarrette Blount 6; Martavis Bryant and Dri Archer 5. ... A movable chess piece in OC Todd Haley's offense, Brown works all areas of the field and projects to run more routes against LCB Greg Toler and slot CB Darius Butler than he does stingy Davis. The No. 2 overall wideout in fantasy, Brown is a clear-cut every-week WR1. ... Due to Wheaton's poor play, Pittsburgh's No. 2 wideout position has devolved into a timeshare involving Wheaton and rookie Bryant. After playing almost all of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps in the initial six games, Wheaton's playing time was cut to 46% in last Monday night's win over Houston, while Bryant mixed in for 36% and caught a 40-yard touchdown bomb. At 6-foot-4, 211 with 4.42 jets, Bryant brings an element that has been sorely missing from Big Ben's arsenal. Expect Wheaton and Bryant to stay in a timeshare, canceling each other out as viable fantasy starts. Bryant offers a much higher ceiling if you're in a 16-team or Dynasty league. ... A seven-game sample size has revealed that Miller isn't a big part of Haley's passing attack. Beyond Miller's 10-85-1 line against Tampa Bay in Week 4, he's averaged 3.8 targets per game. Miller's usage has been a major disappointment considering Pittsburgh's struggles in the wideout corps behind Brown. Even against a Colts defense that permits the 12th most fantasy points to tight ends, Miller is just a low-ceiling TE2.
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Steelers 24
Oakland @ Cleveland
Brian Hoyer's Week 7 performance was bad enough that coach Mike Pettine openly acknowledged the Browns "briefly" contemplated turning to Johnny Manziel during the course of an embarrassing loss to Jacksonville. Racking up misfire after misfire, a horribly inaccurate Hoyer continually sailed passes high and wide of intended targets. The most blatant was a wide-open would-be touchdown to Jordan Cameron early in the second quarter. Oakland's old-and-slow defense does give Hoyer a golden bounce-back opportunity, though the possibility of Cleveland turning in-game to Manziel significantly lowers Hoyer's fantasy floor. I have Hoyer in one two-quarterback league and will probably start him, but only because my alternatives are Geno Smith (vs. BUF) and Blake Bortles (@ MIA). It's not pretty. ... Back at home with a struggling quarterback against the NFL's worst team in what should essentially be viewed as a must-win game for Cleveland's playoff chances, expect OC Kyle Shanahan to lean heavily on his rushing attack. On the season, the Raiders have yielded the second most fantasy points to opposing running backs on top of a healthy 4.23 YPC. This should be a rebound week for Ben Tate after he laid an egg (16-36-0) against the Jags. ... Without C Alex Mack (I.R., ankle/fibula) against Jacksonville, Cleveland's run-game efficiency took a huge step back. Tate handles enough volume to withstand a blow to his per-carry average, but rotating change-of-pace backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West do not. West actually played ahead of Crowell for the first time since Week 3 last Sunday, but was ineffective on the ground (5-8) and was stuffed on two critical first-half short-yardage runs. It's possible West will be removed from the Week 8 RBBC, although we won't know before Sunday morning. Crowell is still just an RB3/4. West is an RB4/5.
Hoyer's target distribution since the Browns' Week 4 bye: Andrew Hawkins 20; Cameron 18; Taylor Gabriel 17; Miles Austin 14; Travis Benjamin 9; Jim Dray 5; Tate 4; Crowell 2. ... Hawkins has yet to score a touchdown on the season and will continue to be a poor bet for TDs due to his 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame, but he is useful in PPR leagues as a relatively low-ceiling WR3. He has a good Week 8 matchup against an Oakland defense that ranks 28th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA metric. Only the Rams, Bucs, Saints, and Falcons are worse. ... Cameron was a box-score letdown in last week's loss to Jacksonville simply because Hoyer played so poorly. He's still seeing a respectable target rate and is a good bet to rebound against a Raiders defense that has lost SS Tyvon Branch and his backup, Usama Young, to year-ending I.R. In one league where I owned both Cameron and Heath Miller, I cut Miller this week and decided to ride it out with Cameron, embracing the good with the bad. Consistency will probably remain an issue for Cameron the rest of the way based on quarterback play and the Browns' heavy run-game reliance. ... Diminutive deep threat Gabriel, possession target Austin, and fourth receiver Benjamin have no re-draft fantasy value. They are role players fighting for scraps in Shanahan's run-based scheme.
Missing four of their top-five defensive linemen in last week's loss to Jacksonville, the Browns' "defense" made a hero out of ex-Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who immediately became a hot fantasy football waiver-wire add. For the first time all season, the Jaguars' offensive line generated movement in the trenches and Robinson had to do little on his own while piling up 22-127-1 on the ground. (Pro Football Focus charted "Shoelace" with just one broken tackle.) Cleveland will once again be without 334-pound LE Phil Taylor (knee), and on the season ranks 31st in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. I noticed Darren McFadden is dirt cheap on FanDuel this week. I also think he's run relatively well in the two games since Tony Sparano took over as Raiders interim coach, showing some power and still offering ample speed. I like McFadden as a high-ceiling flex play in re-draft leagues and think he's worth his low cost in daily formats. Maurice Jones-Drew is barely a factor, and Latavius Murray isn't one at all. ... After an encouraging four-touchdown game in Week 6 against San Diego, Derek Carr returned to Earth in last week's loss to Arizona, still flashing the physical tools that make him a somewhat exciting long-term quarterback option for Oakland, but largely struggling to move the offense en route to a scoreless effort. The Browns are much stingier versus the run than pass, holding opposing quarterbacks to the seventh lowest combined passer rating (83.1) in football with above-average peripheral stats (7.1 YPA allowed, 61.1 completion rate). Carr is talented enough to be worth two-QB-league discussion, but isn't even close to a streamer option.
Carr's target distribution over the past three games: Andre Holmes 25; James Jones 21; Darren McFadden 17; Brice Butler 9; Marcel Reece 5; Vincent Brown and David Ausberry 4; Jones-Drew and Mychal Rivera 3; Denarius Moore 2. ... Holmes took a Week 7 step back along with Carr, dropping a pass where he had Patrick Peterson beaten and finishing with 3-34-0 on five targets. Still easily the highest-ceiling wideout on Oakland's roster, Holmes will primarily do Week 8 battle with RCB Buster Skrine and/or burnable rookie Justin Gilbert, while Jones runs most of his routes against Browns LCB Joe Haden. Even if Holmes turns out to be more boom-bust WR3 than emerging WR2, he has a great matchup this week and will continue to offer blowup-game potential. ... Jones is more of a WR4/5 against Haden, who helped hold Cecil Shorts to 3-12-0 on nine targets last Sunday and is finally beginning to look healthy following an early-season hip injury. ... Butler is Oakland's designated streak-route runner. He's big and fast and is somewhat intriguing as a deep-Dynasty stash, but isn't a re-draft threat. ... Despite the fact that he plays tight end -- theoretically a red-zone position -- slowpoke Rivera hasn't seen a target in scoring position all year. He's not even a viable TE2.
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Raiders 20
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ New Orleans
Aaron Rodgers will enter Sunday night's primetime Superdome clash with a 17:0 TD-to-INT ratio over his last six games. He's now gone 192 pass attempts without an interception. Indoors and facing the league's No. 28 pass defense in a projected shootout, Rodgers is this week's premier fantasy quarterback start. ... Despite the return of Jarrett Boykin in last week's win over Carolina, Davante Adams established another season high in snap rate (79%) and scored his second TD in the past three games. With a six-catch, 77-yard Week 6 effort mixed in, Adams is quietly a top-35 overall fantasy receiver over the past three weeks. Adams' Week 7 targets disappointed in a game where Rodgers only had to throw 22 times to blow out the Panthers, but the rookie's fantasy outlook continues to trend upward. Adams remains an upside WR3 play in this cupcake matchup, where Jordy Nelson will surely have Saints top CB Keenan Lewis attached to him, allowing Adams and Randall Cobb to run routes against frequent burn victim Corey White, banged-up Patrick Robinson (hamstring), and/or UDFA Brian Dixon. ... Rodgers' target distribution since Adams passed Boykin as Green Bay's No. 3 receiver four games ago: Nelson 36; Cobb 27; Adams 16; Andrew Quarless, James Starks, and Eddie Lacy 8; Richard Rodgers 5. ... Jordy is an obvious every-week WR1, but he does have a somewhat difficult test against Lewis, who has resumed playing well following a slow start. I certainly wouldn't bench Jordy in a season-long league and would continue to seriously consider him on FanDuel, but we examine matchups in the Matchups column and Jordy's has a chance to be fairly challenging.
Although Cobb has topped 60 yards just twice across seven games, he has compensated with an absurd touchdown rate, hitting pay dirt in 6-of-7 weeks and eight times on the season. As the No. 2 option in a Rodgers-quarterbacked offense, Cobb is an every-week WR2 who to this point has scored like a legitimate WR1. ... Green Bay's committee backfield remained intact in last week's punishing of the Panthers, as Lacy handled 15 touches and Starks 8. Although fantasy owners have had to come to grips with the fact that Lacy is simply not being utilized as a volume workhorse, his weekly TD potential locks in Fat Ed as a borderline RB1. Lacy is averaging just over 13 carries and two receptions per game, but has four touchdowns over his last four. On the season, enemy running backs have tallied 559 yards and six touchdowns on 136 rushing attempts (4.11 YPC) against New Orleans. This is far from a mouth-watering matchup for Lacy, but he'll continue to be a good bet to score. ... Mixing in even when games are in doubt, Starks is more than a change-of-pace or "breather" back in the Packers' offense. He scored a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter against Carolina and has played 40% of Green Bay's offensive snaps over the last three weeks. Starks is still more RB3 than strong flex option, but he should be owned in all leagues. Starks could become a borderline RB1 if something happened to Lacy, although Eddie's reduced workloads do put him at less injury risk.
The over-under on Packers-Saints is 55.5 points, easily Week 8's highest. Vegas has installed New Orleans as a two-point favorite, so the sharps envision Sean Payton's unit racking up a lot of points. Although Drew Brees has been a slight fantasy disappointment when compared to the likes of Peyton, Rodgers, and Luck, he has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five straight weeks and is tied with Jay Cutler for No. 5 overall in per-game quarterback scoring. The Packers' top-six pass defense poses a legitimate challenge, but Brees is always a top-notch fantasy play at home. ... Brees' 2014 target distribution: Jimmy Graham 49; Brandin Cooks 44; Marques Colston 39; injured Pierre Thomas 29; Travaris Cadet 21; Kenny Stills 20; Robert Meachem 16; Ben Watson 15; Josh Hill 9; Mark Ingram 8; Khiry Robinson 6. ... Fantasy owners would've been better off with Graham (shoulder) not playing in last week's loss to Detroit, but play Graham did, handling just 40% of New Orleans' offensive snaps and failing to reel in either of his two targets. Graham was essentially a decoy, with his first target not coming until the fourth quarter. Although Graham's snaps are expected to be limited once again, he should now be more comfortable playing with his injury, and this game's shootout potential locks in Graham as a high-end TE1. In yet another bad year for tight end fantasy production, the only one I'd play over Graham amongst Sunday and Monday's games is Rob Gronkowski. ... All of Green Bay's cornerbacks are playing well this season, so deciding between New Orleans' wideouts is a bit of a crapshoot. Colston stepped up (6-111-0) with Graham limited last week, but will contend with stingy slot CB Casey Hayward in this one. Colston has been an up-and-down WR2/3 all year.
Always a high-ceiling, low-floor dart throw, Stills is coming off his best game since last year (5-103-1) and will run most of his Week 8 routes against Packers LCB Tramon Williams. Williams is a big, physical cover man and doesn't give Stills an especially attractive matchup. Stills is a WR4/5, albeit with heightened appeal due to the game's high-scoring projection. ... Of Cooks' 34 receptions this year, 13 have come behind the line of scrimmage, and 12 more within ten yards of the line. He's only averaging 8.2 yards per catch with one touchdown on the year. Although Cooks possesses a talented enough skill set to go off at any moment, he can't be trusted as more than a dice-roll WR3 against a stingy pass defense. New Orleans' first-round pick ranks a lowly 51st in per-game fantasy receiver scoring, despite a relatively generous number of targets. ... Thomas' (ribs/shoulder) 2-3 game absence frees up an average of roughly nine touches and 30 running back snaps per game. The primary playing-time beneficiary will be fellow passing-down back Cadet, who has just three rushing attempts on the season but 15 catches over the past three weeks. Cadet is a poor bet for touchdowns, but you could do worse in a PPR flex position. Cadet is a solid bet for 4-6 catches against Green Bay. ... The Packers are more vulnerable on the ground than in the air. They rank 31st in run defense and are 14th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. In Ingram's first game back from a hand injury last week, he sprinkled 12 touches amongst 26 snaps. Robinson only played five snaps, finished with three touches, lost a fumble, and missed significant practice time this week with a forearm injury. With Thomas out, Robinson injured and/or potentially in the doghouse, and Green Bay susceptible on the ground, the stars have aligned for a bounce-back week for Ingram, who will be a good bet to hit pay dirt in this potential shootout.
Saturday Update: The Saints have ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) in addition to Pierre Thomas (ribs/shoulder) for this game, reducing what is often a three- and even-four man backfield to two. Five carries would probably be Cadet's ceiling, but he should operate as New Orleans' passing-game specialist and is a high-floor flex play in PPR leagues. Ingram should see in the range of 14-19 carries in a plus run-game matchup. He needs to be locked into all fantasy lineups.
Score Prediction: Packers 34, Saints 30
Monday Night Football
Washington @ Dallas
Already without LCB DeAngelo Hall, the Redskins' pass defense endured another major blow in Week 7 as OLB Brian Orakpo suffered a year-ending pectoral tear. Washington will turn to athletically-challenged rookie Trent Murphy to replace Orakpo. Murphy has shown solid run-defense chops but struggled mightily to rush the passer in year one. Although Tony Romo's pass attempts are down in Dallas' new ball-control offense -- he's on pace for 490 after firing off 648 in 2012 and 535 across 15 games last season -- Romo should be taken seriously as a QB1 start in this gorgeous matchup. Even with Orakpo in the lineup, the Skins surrendered a 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 103.6 passer rating against, the sixth worst mark in the league. Romo should have an efficient and productive Week 8 box score. Working in Romo's favor is Monday night's 49.5-point over-under, third highest among Sunday and Monday's games. Points will be scored. ... Orakpo's absence is also likely to be felt in run defense, where he graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 6 overall run-defending 3-4 outside linebacker, among 49 qualifiers. Although Murphy has played well in that facet of the game, keeping it up as an every-snap defender will be more challenging. On pace for 428 carries, 2,087 yards, and 16 touchdowns, DeMarco Murray remains this week's top fantasy running back play. Murray is also on pace for 51 receptions, which would come close to last year's career high of 53.
Romo's Weeks 1-7 target distribution: Dez Bryant 69; Jason Witten 35; Terrance Williams 32; Murray 26; Cole Beasley 16; Lance Dunbar 11; Gavin Escobar 9; Dwayne Harris 7; Devin Street 4. ... Hall sometimes gave Dez trouble in the past but is on injured reserve now, leaving disappointing sophomore RCB David Amerson and speed-deficient rookie LCB Bashaud Breeland to contend with Bryant on the perimeter. It's a blowup spot for Dez, who has a great argument to be this week's No. 1 fantasy wideout play. ... Williams' limited usage has predictably begun to catch up to his box-score production, but he's worth a look as a WR3 against the Redskins. As Williams runs most of his routes at opposing left corners, he will take on Breeland for most of this game. 5-foot-11, 197-pound Breeland ran a sluggish 4.62 forty with a 34 1/2-inch vertical at February's Combine. He is PFF's No. 95 cornerback among 106 qualifiers. Williams is 6-foot-2, 208 with 4.52 speed. ... A bigger part of Dallas' running game than passing attack, Witten hasn't been a fantasy starter at any point this season. The Redskins are 25th in receptions (28) allowed to tight ends, and 24th in yards (297). So far a non-factor in scoring position, Witten has just three red-zone targets on the year. ... Another threat to Witten's passing-game role is the emergence of 6-foot-6, 254-pound Escobar, who played a season-high 26 snaps in Dallas' Week 7 win over the Giants and caught touchdown passes from 26 and 15 yards out. 23-year-old Escobar is much more Dynasty prospect than re-draft asset, but he's an obstacle for Witten's usage in and around the red zone.
After replacing pick-machine Kirk Cousins at halftime of last week's win over Tennessee, Colt McCoy dropped back to pass 14 times. He threw 12 passes, with only two traveling further than ten yards. Always a short-ball thrower, McCoy is a classic checkdown-oriented NFL backup with sub-par arm strength who plays small in the pocket and will surprise you with his inaccuracy and lack of escape ability. McCoy's career completion rate is 58.9% with a 22:20 TD-to-INT ratio and a dozen fumbles across 21 starts. Is McCoy capable of handling himself well for one game? Yes, but my bet is last week will go down as that one game. Facing DC Rod Marinelli's opportunistic defense, which quietly ranks 12th versus the pass and tied for eighth in interceptions (7), McCoy would be a poor two-QB-league play. At home against a third-string-caliber quarterback, Dallas' fantasy defense is worth a serious look as a streamer. ... McCoy's target distribution off the bench last week: Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon 4; Andre Roberts, Niles Paul, Roy Helu, and Darrel Young 1; DeSean Jackson 0. ... McCoy actually did target Jackson twice against Tennessee, though neither counted as one would-be 36-yard gain was negated by offsetting penalties, and Jackson drew a 22-yard pass-interference flag courtesy of Titans LCB Jason McCourty on the other. D-Jax will still be a risky, dice-roll WR3 against the Cowboys due to what's likely to be poor quarterback play in a game where Washington might not have the ball much. ... Reed is the one Washington pass catcher I'd feel good about starting at Jerry World. Not only are the Cowboys allowing the second most fantasy points to tight ends, but McCoy looked to Reed three times on the Redskins' game-winning drive last week, connecting for gains of 7, 9, and 9 yards on critical chain-moving plays. In his second game back from a torn hamstring, Reed's snap rate jumped from 57% to 67%. Continue to treat Reed as a locked-in TE1.
Although Garcon leads the Redskins in 2014 targets, it's concerning for his TD potential that he's only been thrown at three times in the red zone. Whereas D-Jax will run most of his Week 8 routes against burnable Cowboys LCB Brandon Carr, Garcon gets the tougher draw versus RCBs Orlando Scandrick and Sterling Moore. Scandrick covers the slot in nickel packages, but plays right corner in Dallas' base defense, and is replaced on the perimeter by Moore on passing downs. Moore and Scandrick are both top-13 cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus' grades. Carr is 79th among 106 qualifiers. Garcon owners can try hanging their hats on last week's 70-yard touchdown -- delivered by McCoy -- as being predictive. I'm just as interested as you to see whether it really is. If forced to choose between starting D-Jax and Garcon on Monday night, I'd go with Jackson. ... As no team in the NFL has shown an ability to stop Dallas' rushing attack, Redskins skill-position players will be dicey Week 8 fantasy investments. Washington could conceivably get dominated in time of possession by a Cowboys team that leads the NFC in that statistic and pulls no punches with its team philosophy. Dallas will run the football with volume regardless of down, distance, and game flow. So despite the fact that the Cowboys surrender 5.38 YPC to opposing running backs, game-flow-dependent Alfred Morris will be a high-risk RB2. Should the Redskins fall behind, we'll end up seeing an awful lot of Helu. McCoy's presence under center can't help Morris' Week 8 outlook, either. As a popgun-armed passer, McCoy guarantees a condensed offense and allows the opponent to cheat toward the line of scrimmage.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Redskins 17