1:00PM ET Games
Miami @ New England
Rob Gronkowski is going to be the target monster we all imagined for wideout-deficient New England. In his 2013 debut last week against the Jets, an understandably winded Gronk only played 51-of-79 snaps (64.6%) but piled up an astronomical 17 targets -- the most by any NFL tight end in Week 7. (Second place had 9.) With Jimmy Graham hobbled, Gronk is once again fantasy's premier TE1. Miami has allowed the second most fantasy points to tight ends. ... The rest of Tom Brady's target distribution in Gronk's return: Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson 7, Kenbrell Thompkins and Austin Collie 5, Brandon Bolden 3, Stevan Ridley 2. ... Amendola's (concussion) expected Week 8 activity will throw New England's pass-catching corps for another loop behind Gronkowski. The snap and target totals of Edelman, Dobson, and Thompkins had already become frustratingly unpredictable from week to week, so adding another body who commands pass-game attention further muddies an already slippery situation. (As does the emergence of Collie as a legitimate factor.) ... My guess is Edelman and Amendola will be the slot/Z receivers on the majority of Sunday's snaps, with Thompkins at X. Dobson would rotate in based on personnel packages, and Collie would be among New England's inactives. That's just my guess. I'd view Edelman as a WR3 versus Miami, Thompkins as a WR4, and Amendola as a WR2/3. Hang onto Dobson just to see what happens.
Tom Brady's play independent of those around him has been concerning. I thought it was slightly worrisome in 2012, as well. He's simply not the intermediate to deep thrower he used to be, and we highlighted that in our summer Draft Guide. I still view Brady as a top-eight QB1 the rest of the way with Gronk and Amendola back behind one of the NFL’s premier O-Lines. I think he'll have a big game against Miami's No. 25 pass defense. ... Patriots backfield usage is always subject to weekly change due to Bill Belichick's game plan-based usage, but it sure seems as if LeGarrette Blount is fading away. And that's promising news for Ridley. No longer maximizing his touches, Blount has a pathetic 13 yards on his last 9 carries (1.44 YPC) going back to Week 5. He played two snaps against the Jets. ... Ridley, meanwhile, has turned his last 42 runs into 199 yards (4.74 YPC) and three touchdowns. He's caught all six of his passing-game targets on the year, which could earn him more receiving work moving forward. Ridley is an every-week RB2 again. The Fins' middling run defense ranks No. 14 in yards allowed. ... Bolden played more Week 7 snaps than usual due to Belichick's week-specific game plan. The Pats attacked the Jets with hurry-up packages, and Bolden is their primary back in those sets. Playing Bolden in fantasy is a total crapshoot. He hasn't exceeded 11 touches in any game this year and has one touchdown. Bolden is simply not a player the Patriots make a serious effort to get the football to on a weekly basis. He is a role player.
Lamar Miller has outplayed Daniel Thomas since 2012, so when the Dolphins emerged from their Week 6 bye with Thomas starting and Miller as a timeshare partner, it was a tell-tale sign: This RBBC is here to stay, and we can no longer expect a commitment to either back. OC Mike Sherman's playcalling indicates he and coach Joe Philbin don't think either of their backs is very good. Despite arguably league-worst pass protection, the Dolphins' offense is quarterback-centric with no real belief in a sustaining rushing attack. Averaging 10.8 touches a game, expect Miller to stay in that vicinity when the Fins visit Foxboro. Although the Pats are vulnerable to the run since losing NT Vince Wilfork (Achilles') and WLB Jerod Mayo (pectoral), Miller can only be treated as a flex option. Thomas lacks NFL-caliber running skills and remains unworthy of a roster spot in 12-team leagues. ... If Philbin, Sherman, and grasping-at-straws GM Jeff Ireland believe washed-up 34-year-old Ozzie Newsome castoff LT Bryant McKinnie will solve their protection woes, perhaps they're even more removed from reality than we thought. Benched in Baltimore, McKinnie graded out 67th of 75 qualifying offensive tackles across five starts in Pro Football Focus' grades. ... In his two 2012 meetings with Belichick, Tannehill completed a combined 33-of-64 passes (51.6%) for 421 yards (6.6 YPA), no touchdowns, and a pick. There's no real reason to think Tannehill will do better this time around behind a worse offensive line against a much-improved Pats pass defense.
Tannehill's Week 7 target distribution, coming off the bye: Brian Hartline 11, Mike Wallace 10, Brandon Gibson 8, Charles Clay and Miller 3, Thomas 1. ... The Dolphins gave Wallace a $60 million contract in the offseason, but don't use him like a No. 1 receiver. He's just another guy in their vanilla offense, running sideline routes and hoping the line gives Tannehill enough time to throw. On Sunday, look for Wallace to draw Aqib Talib's shadow. Talib has been a true shutdown corner with zero touchdowns allowed since Week 1. ... Belichick will likely be more than happy to let Hartline rack up innocuous possession-type catches because he's no real threat to score touchdowns or burn coverage deep. At least that's what happened in each of these teams' 2012 games, with Hartline leading Miami in receiving (5-84, 5-69) both times. Hartline epitomizes a low-ceiling WR3. ... Clay owners should shake off his Week 7 three-target head scratcher and start him as a back-end TE1 against the Patriots. He's a smooth-moving H-back type who could give New England's sluggish-footed linebackers fits, especially without Mayo. The Pats have allowed the ninth most receptions in the league to tight ends. Clay is the No. 9 overall fantasy tight end.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 21
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Buffalo @ New Orleans
The ankle injury is worsening -- not getting better -- for C.J. Spiller, who looked the worst I've seen him all year in last week's upset of Miami. Spiller had one productive offensive touch among 11, and tapped out of the game after virtually every play that involved him. Clearly, Spiller should not have been out there. If the Bills aren't going to do it, fantasy owners need to sit Spiller until his ankle gets right. He's a high-risk, low-floor flex option in Week 8. ... Although Fred Jackson has been dealing with an MCL injury of his own, he's in line to spearhead a Buffalo run game Sunday that leads the NFL in rushing attempts and squares off with a Saints defense that ranks 22nd versus the run and permits 5.07 yards per carry, the second highest clip in football. F-Jax looms as something of an in-game injury risk, but offers intriguing upside in an attractive matchup where he'll be the foundation of Buffalo's offense. You could argue Jackson is a top-15 running back play this week. ... Tashard Choice is next in line for Bills running-game work. A pedestrian, blocking-dependent 29-year-old back with just three receptions and a 3.60 YPC average on the season, Choice would be an uninspiring fantasy addition. He might be worth a look in 16-team leagues.
Through two starts, Thad Lewis has completed 62.5% of 64 attempts for 418 yards (6.5 YPA), two touchdowns, and a pick while rushing for a third score. He's led Buffalo to an overtime loss to Cincinnati and Week 7 upset win at Miami. Lewis' upside is theoretically capped by the Bills' run-heavy ways, but this game has a chance to produce a healthy dose of scoring at the Superdome versus New Orleans' top-six offense. Lewis is squarely on the two-quarterback-league radar. Bills-Saints has a 49.5-point over-under, fourth highest of Week 8. ... Lewis' target distribution: Stevie Johnson 13; F-Jax and Robert Woods 10; T.J. Graham 8; Scott Chandler 7; Spiller 5; Choice 4; Marquise Goodwin and Chris Hogan 3. ... Keep in mind Johnson missed the first of Lewis' two starts. Although he came away with only 61 yards on six receptions last week, Johnson was clearly Lewis' top read throughout the game and made a handful of spectacular catches over the middle and down the seam. Johnson is back on the WR3 radar against the Saints. ... Woods has been reduced to WR5 value. He's failed to clear 25 yards in each of Lewis' starts. ... New Orleans has allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends this season. Chandler is a low-end TE2.
Behind only Peyton Manning in per-game QB scoring, Drew Brees returns from a Week 7 bye to take on Buffalo's 21st-ranked pass defense, a unit that has allowed the most touchdown passes (15) in the league. The Bills are better than that with top CB Stephon Gilmore and FS Jairus Byrd healthy, but this isn't an imposing matchup for the NFC's top passer. Brees has an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last three games. ... Jimmy Graham (foot) is expected to be inactive or "limited" against Buffalo. You always start Graham if he plays. If not, look for a combination of Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles to pick up the slack. When the Dolphins attempted to eliminate Graham in Week 4, Sproles lit them up for 142 yards and two TDs on 11 touches. Expect Sproles to be a big part of coach Sean Payton's Week 8 game plan. ... Same goes for Colston, whose snaps were down a bit in the three games before New Orleans' Week 7 bye. Colston opened the season as an 82.2% player. He only played 63.3% of the downs in Weeks 4-6. Recommitting to Colston as a featured component would've made sense during the off week for Payton. Graham is banged up now, and the Saints are going to have to find other ways to generate offense. ... If Graham is inactive, Ben Watson will be New Orleans' primary tight end. Watson turns 34 in December and has 12 targets all year. While a red-zone score obviously can't be ruled out for Watson, I'm going to guess Payton used his free time to focus on re-involving Colston rather than a late-career journeyman. Buffalo is allowing the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Mark Ingram still hasn't returned from his Week 2 toe injury, giving Thomas flex value against the Bills' No. 28 run defense. When Ingram has been inactive this season, the back once dorkishly nicknamed "P.T. Cruiser" has averaged 16.5 touches a game with heavy receiving usage. Khiry Robinson will fill the old Chris Ivory/Ingram clock-killing role. ... 14- and 16-team leaguers should give Lance Moore a look if he's available. Not as a Week 8 starter, but as a bench stash in case Graham misses more time than expected or suffers a setback. Moore has resumed practicing fully after an early-season wrist injury. Just keep in mind Moore, rookie Kenny Stills, and Robert Meachem were essentially forming a three-man second receiver rotation behind Colston before Moore went down. So there are no guarantees on his production. ... Moore's return does deflate Stills' Week 8 sleeper balloon. Stills has gone target-less in two of the Saints' last four games, but registered a 3-64-1 line in Week 6, prior to the Week 7 open date. Stills is capable of some fantastic catches. He just doesn't play a big or consistent enough role in the offense to be fantasy viable barring a handful of key injuries. Stills has much more long-range value in Dynasty leagues.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Bills 21
NY Giants @ Philadelphia
Forced back into the lineup due to Nick Foles' Week 7 faceplant and concussion, Michael Vick will retake the reins of Philly's offense at less than 100%. Vick (hamstring) suggested Wednesday he will probably be closer to "80%" against the G-Men, making him a classic boom-or-bust fantasy QB1. Vick is the No. 6 fantasy quarterback in per-game scoring, taking on a Giants defense that allows the most points per game in the NFC. So the matchup is virtually ideal, and Vick has been a plus QB1 when healthy this year. But he is a 34-year-old injury-prone player who won't be at full strength. Start him at your own high-ceiling, low-floor risk. ... Because Chip Kelly is a run-minded coach in the first place and his quarterback is nursing an injury, look for heavy Week 8 reliance on LeSean McCoy, perhaps even more so than usual. He could push for 30 carries. The Giants held Shady to 46 yards on 20 runs (2.30 YPC) in these clubs' October 6 meeting, but he still totaled 92 yards and executed a goal-line trip. New York is now on the road playing on a short week after last Monday's win over Minnesota. ... Vick's target distribution on the season: DeSean Jackson 42, Jason Avant 25, Riley Cooper 18, McCoy and Brent Celek 15, Zach Ertz 11, Bryce Brown 4.
Shake off Jackson's Week 7 clunker and start him as a legit WR1 against the G-Men. Vick has peppered D-Jax with footballs, including 13 in these teams' Week 5 meeting. ... Celek's somewhat high early-season target totals with Vick are slightly deceptive because he's been losing looks and snaps to rookie Ertz of late. Tight end has not been a heavily targeted position this year in Kelly's offense. Ertz would be a better desperation dice roll than Celek due to superior big-play ability. ... Cooper strung together back-to-back productive games with Foles under center (4-120-1, 6-88). These are Cooper's stat lines in Vick's five starts: 2-14, 2-15-1, 2-29, 2-25, 0-0. Cooper is not and likely never will be a recommended WR3, even against bottom-barrel pass defenses. ... Although Avant is more consistently involved in Kelly's passing game than Cooper and the tight ends, the 30-year-old possession slot receiver lacks upside to surface on 12-team-league radars. Avant has cleared 40 yards in 1-of-7 games this year. He's just barely a top-75 fantasy wideout.
Be it due to poor offensive line play or his own, Eli Manning has consistently failed to deliver worthwhile fantasy production in favorable on-paper 2013 matchups. Manning posted a 1:4 TD-to-INT ratio against Denver's No. 32 pass defense in Week 2. He threw for 200 yards and one score in last week's clash with Minnesota's 29th-ranked group. Eli faced the No. 27 Bears in Week 6 and managed 239 yards with a touchdown and three picks. Manning did drop 334 yards and two TDs on these same Eagles in Week 5, but needed 52 attempts and was intercepted three times. The bottom line is Manning hasn't been a good quarterback this year. He has a great matchup with Philly's No. 31 pass defense, but statistical success isn't assured. ... The Giants' backfield has been even more of a fantasy nightmare, and is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of matchup. Philadelphia has quietly played stout defense up front, ranking 12th versus the run with a fairly stingy 3.85 YPC average against. Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) "hopes" to face the Eagles on no practice, but probably won't be 100% if he does, and that's a scary proposition for a washed-up 31-year-old running back. Despite unproductive Week 7 games, Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox figure to remain in the mix. This is an obvious situation to avoid.
Friday Update: Jacobs (hamstring) missed his third straight practice Friday and is listed as doubtful, meaning he won't play against the Eagles. Look for Hillis to be the Giants' primary back with Cox in a lightly-used change-of-pace role. Hillis is worth Week 8 flex-play consideration for desperate PPR leaguers because he'll handle all passing-game work. Neither Giants back is likely to have rushing success against Philly's underrated run defense.
Brandon Myers opened the season as a near-100% player. He's played 64.3% of the snaps over the past two weeks. Over the last month, Myers is averaging one target per game. He's fantasy waiver-wire fodder. ... On a weekly basis, the Eagles' defense gets torched by underneath and crossing routes. Victor Cruz is the likeliest Giants receiver to run those kinds of patterns. Ignore Cruz's three-week scoreless drought and start him as a borderline WR1 at Philly. Cruz has five touchdowns in his last five Eagles games. ... Dropping more balls than ever before and unable to create consistent separation, Hakeem Nicks will remain a boom-or-bust WR3 option this week. Glass-half-full Nicks owners can hang their hats on the 9-142 line he dropped on Philadelphia last time out. Nicks is on pace for 62 catches and 1,075 yards in his contract year. He hasn't scored a touchdown, so perhaps he's due. ... No. 3 receiver Rueben Randle's snap percentage the past two games is 43.4%, but he's still managed to find pay dirt four times over his past three games. Randle's last two stat lines against Philadelphia: 6-96-2, 4-58-2. I'll keep arguing Randle is a risky WR3 because his playing time is so limited in a shaky passing attack, but you can't dispute his attractive matchup and big-play ability. Randle is going to be a star when Nicks moves on.
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Giants 20
Cleveland @ Kansas City
Confirming himself a matchup-proof RB1, Jamaal Charles has dusted top-13 run defenses this year for an average of 134.3 total yards per game and four combined all-purpose touchdowns in three such matchups. So Cleveland's No. 9 run defense should instill little fear in fantasy owners. When Charles isn't shredding enemy front sevens on the ground, he's racking up catches and beating defenders in space. And he's literally always hitting pay dirt. Charles has yet to go four quarters this year without scoring a touchdown. ... At the opposite end of the spectrum is Alex Smith, a pure game manager whom coach Andy Reid asks not to lose games as opposed to win them. Smith has failed to throw a touchdown pass in four of his last five games. He hasn't reached 300 passing yards once all season. Smith legitimately offers less fantasy upside than Thad Lewis week in and week out. He's a low-end QB2 against Cleveland's top-seven pass defense.
Anthony Fasano returned from a five-week knee injury in last Sunday's win over the Texans, and immediately became a big part of the Chiefs' passing offense. He secured 4-of-5 targets for 27 yards, which is quality production on a Smith-quarterbacked team. Lumbering, block-first Fasano is worth a look for desperate TE1 streamers against a Browns defense coughing up the 12th most catches to tight ends. ... Smith's target distribution with Fasano back: Dwayne Bowe 9; Dexter McCluster and Fasano 5; Donnie Avery, Anthony Sherman, and Charles 4; Sean McGrath 2. ... Don't think of Bowe's season-high nine targets as a sign of box-score production to come, especially against Joe Haden. No longer worth a roster spot in 12-team leagues, Bowe is the No. 55 overall fantasy wideout behind the likes of Brandon LaFell and Riley Cooper. ... Partner-in-crime Avery is 57th in receiver scoring. He's been held under 40 yards in 5-of-7 games. Avery is a better bet than Bowe this week because he'll draw more Chris Owens than Haden, but remains a bottom-barrel fantasy option. ... Role player McCluster is worth a look in return-yardage leagues; just don't let last week's 70 receiving yards deceive you. 46 of them came on a third-and-21 screen pass versus the Brian Cushing-less Texans defense. McCluster has always and will always be fantasy trash.
Brandon Weeden had arguably the worst game of his career in last week's loss to Green Bay, but the Browns know Jason Campbell is an inferior option, or else they wouldn't have turned back to Weeden in the first place following Brian Hoyer's ACL tear. Cleveland has actually passed up the chance to insert Campbell twice this season, once after Weeden's Week 2 thumb injury, and again after Hoyer's injury. So at this point they are throwing mud at the wall, knowing full well it won't stick. With a windup delivery and concrete feet, 32-year-old journeyman Campbell is the kind of quarterback who worsens offensive line play and will be a sitting duck against a Chiefs defense that generates more pressure than any team in football. They're first in the NFL with 35 sacks -- 10 ahead of second-place Baltimore. Fire up Kansas City's fantasy defense and be wary of Browns skill-position players. In all likelihood, this one is going to get ugly, quick. ... Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron still project as Cleveland's go-to targets in the passing game, but need to be downgraded. Gordon is more of a WR3 this week, while Cameron is a low-end TE1. In Cameron's case, it's worth noting SS Eric Berry's Chiefs have allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. In Gordon's case, it's notable that Andre Johnson dropped 89 yards on Kansas City last week, with Case Keenum under center. So all is not necessarily lost.
I'd write off the rest of Cleveland's pass catchers as Week 8 deep-league starts. Even in ideal situations, slot man Davone Bess and possession flanker Greg Little lack upside for serious fantasy consideration. They're now faced with surely-inept quarterback play against the NFL's best defense. ... With Fozzy Whittaker introduced to the timeshare, the Browns' backfield has been reduced to a fantasy value-less three-headed monster. Whittaker played 22 snaps in Week 7, primarily as a passing-down back, and gained 24 yards on seven touches. Chris Ogbonnaya played 20 downs, dropped one of his two targets, and failed to secure the other. Willis McGahee led the running back corps in snaps (32) and carries (11), but is averaging 2.90 YPC on the year and allowed a sack of Weeden, which won't help his already long odds of an increased passing-game role. As Maurice Jones-Drew (15-45-0), Arian Foster (4-11-0), DeMarco Murray (15-25-0), Ben Tate (15-50-0), David Wilson (13-55-0), Chris Johnson (10-17-0), and Darren McFadden (16-52-0) can all attest, Kansas City is not an attractive matchup for enemy tailbacks. Those runners have combined for no rushing touchdowns and a 2.89 yards-per-carry average against the Chiefs.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Browns 13
Dallas @ Detroit
The Lions' pass defense is becoming a major concern after solid early-season performance. They had to bench top CB Chris Houston for getting shredded by A.J. Green last week, and although the defensive line has generally played well, Detroit ranks a disappointing 27th in sacks. The Lions' other regular corners are 33-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis, gambling slot CB Bill Bentley, and rookie Darius Slay, who was benched early in the season. Detroit needs more sacks to mask its cornerback deficiencies, but seems unlikely to get them against a Cowboys team surrendering just over two sacks a game with a top-four pass-blocking group, per Pro Football Focus. Beneath Ford Field's dome in a game with a 51-point over-under -- third highest of Week 7 -- I'd feel very good about Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Terrance Williams as locked-in fantasy starters. ... Bryant is the No. 1 overall fantasy receiver the past five weeks, and No. 2 on the season behind Wes Welker. The Lions don't have a defensive back capable of containing him. ... Williams' efficiency has been incredible as he bypasses Miles Austin to be Dallas' clear-cut No. 2 wideout. The third-round pick has secured 24-of-28 targets with just one drop through six games, good for an 86% catch rate that ranks behind only teammate Cole Beasley among NFL wide receivers with at least 20 targets. In other words, Williams has earned the promotion. If the Lions put brackets on Dez, Williams could be headed for a huge game in single coverage. Williams' rookie-year improvement has been amazing after STATS charged him with nine drops as a college senior.
Some opposing outside receiver stats versus the Lions this year: Josh Gordon 7-126; James Jones 4-127-1; A.J. Green 8-155-1; Alshon Jeffery 5-107-1; Jerome Simpson 7-140; Brandon Marshall 7-79; Pierre Garcon 8-73. ... Romo's target distribution since Austin's (hamstring) half-hearted return to the lineup two games ago: Dez 24, Beasley 12, Jason Witten 11, Williams 9, Austin 7, Joseph Randle 6. ... The Lions have allowed the fourth most receptions and sixth most yards to tight ends, giving mid-range TE1 Witten a plus matchup. ... If Austin does not play at Detroit -- and my guess is he won't -- Beasley will be worth a long look for desperate PPR owners as a WR3. Beasley would be Dallas' primary slot receiver in all three-wide packages. He's coming off a six-catch, 53-yard game on seven targets. ... Due to the nature of DeMarco Murray's MCL injury, return of change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar (hamstring), and Joseph Randle's solid Week 7 performance, Dallas' backfield has the look of a Week 8 fantasy situation to avoid. Phillip Tanner is also available for designated pass-blocking situations, in case the Cowboys don't want to push Murray into resuming every-down back duties in his first game back. Roles are all up in the air, and Murray's health has never been trustworthy. I'd view him as a high-risk flex option.
Humming again with Calvin Johnson's knee back near full strength, Matthew Stafford has a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last two games while leapfrogging to second in fantasy quarterback scoring. That's right, Stafford is the No. 2 fantasy QB behind Peyton Manning, while only Peyton, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers have scored more points per game. View Stafford as an every-week starter regardless of matchups, and play him with excitement in this potential shootout versus Dallas' No. 30 pass defense. The Cowboys will be without FS J.J. Wilcox, who suffered an MCL sprain in Thursday's practice. ... Beyond Calvin Johnson, there are so many moving parts in Detroit's pass-catching corps that trying to chase recent box-score stats is more likely to cause headaches than pay off. Joseph Fauria chasers felt the Week 7 brunt as he finished with a 15-yard catch on four targets one game after scoring three TDs. A lumbering, touchdown-dependent part-time tight end, Fauria is essentially Scott Chandler in a better passing offense playing fewer snaps. Fauria has been a 35.7% player the past two weeks. Use him at your own risk. ... Working in Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew's Week 8 favor, admittedly, is the Cowboys' allowance of the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends. No defense has surrendered more tight end catches.
Fighting for scraps opposite Megatron, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, and Ryan Broyles are essentially canceling each other out of fantasy consideration. Durham is playing the most snaps. Ogletree had the most Week 7 yards (50). Broyles maintains the most long-term potential. ... Stafford's target distribution since Megatron returned two games ago: Johnson 23, Durham 21, Reggie Bush and Pettigrew 11, Fauria 7, Joique Bell and Broyles 6. ... So based on the target numbers, Durham would be the best Week 8 roll of the dice among Detroit's complementary wideouts. ... You're obviously starting Calvin, but it's noteworthy that the Cowboys have excelled at containing opposing No. 1 wideouts. The last five top receivers they've faced: DeSean Jackson 3-21, Demaryius Thomas 5-57, Pierre Garcon 6-69, Keenan Allen 5-80, Chris Givens 2-54. Dallas hasn't allowed a "No. 1" receiver to find pay dirt since Dwayne Bowe in Week 2. If the Cowboys assign double teams and brackets to slow down Megatron, Bush could be the primary statistical beneficiary. Dallas ranks 13th in run defense and allows 4.33 yards per carry, the eighth most generous clip in football. So Bush is already entering this game with a fairly attractive matchup. ... Pace-change back Bell hasn't reached double-digit targets since September. Although Bell maintains elite stash/handcuff value, he isn't much of a standalone week-to-week flex option.
Score Prediction: Lions 30, Cowboys 28
San Francisco vs. Jacksonville
Sunday's Jaguars-Niners game will be played at London's Wembley Stadium, where the Vikings downed the Steelers 34-27 in a Week 4 game as 827 total yards were generated by two teams that rank in the NFL's bottom 20 in total offense. We've learned over the years that there are no bankable trends in these London games. They actually tend to be more high scoring than expected. ... The Jaguars enter Week 8 with very little chance of competing against a front-end NFL team like San Francisco. Game in and game out, fantasy owners of Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts can comfortably count on garbage-time passing. I particularly like Blackmon's Week 8 matchup with 49ers LCB Tramaine Brock. Although Brock has played well this season, man-child Blackmon will have a major physical advantage on San Francisco's 5-foot-10, 197-pound nickel back. ... Chad Henne is averaging 38.5 pass attempts per start, a top-ten clip in football. While Henne isn't trustworthy beyond desperate two-QB-league scenarios, the stat is a reminder that he can keep Blackmon and Shorts fed due to volume and the pass-happy comeback mode factors. ... Henne's target distribution since Blackmon came off suspension three games ago: Blackmon 38, Shorts 23, Mike Brown 13, Clay Harbor 8, Maurice Jones-Drew 7, Justin Forsett 4.
Brown has overtaken injury-prone, ineffective rookie Ace Sanders as the Jags' third receiver and delivered career highs in catches (5) and targets (120) in last week's loss to the Chargers. The former Liberty University quarterback's game was highlighted by a 43-yard catch and run. Brown ran a 4.69 forty at 5-foot-11, 205 at his March 2012 Pro Day. I'd be surprised if Week 7 doesn't go down as easily the best game of his 2013 season. ... Marcedes Lewis finally returned to the lineup as a near-full-time player against San Diego, playing 51-of-62 snaps and seeing three targets. He secured one up the seam, breaking several tackles en route to a 31-yard gain. The Jaguars used Lewis primarily as a receiver in his first game back, but that could change this week against San Francisco's ferocious defense. The 49ers rank in the top five of Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics, and have allowed the tenth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Here are the rushing stat lines of the last four enemy lead backs to face the Niners: Chris Johnson 9-39-0; Rashard Mendenhall 10-40-0; Arian Foster 21-98-0; Daryl Richardson 12-16-0. The 49ers haven't been quite as statistically stout as in past years, but they effectively curb opposing rushing success by blowing out opponents. I think it's a good bet they'll blow out the Jags. MJD is a weak flex option.
"The more he runs, the better off they are." That was ESPN analyst Bill Polian's take on the 49ers' offense and Colin Kaepernick this week, and it's difficult to argue. Teams with dual-threat quarterbacks around the NFL opened the year using their signal callers conservatively, perhaps for fear of injury. The Niners, Panthers, Seahawks, and Redskins have opened things up since, and over the past five weeks have a combined 14-5 record. In Week 7 against Tennessee, Kaepernick set a season high in rushes (11) and gained 68 yards, including a 20-yard scoring explosion down the left sideline. Kaepernick's fantasy numbers have still been limited by the 49ers' propensity for blowout wins, therefore asking less of their quarterback. Kap's week-to-week upside remains intact, but he needs opponents to begin playing more competitively. The Jags probably won't do that, making Kaepernick a borderline QB1 in Week 8. ... Offensive centerpiece Frank Gore is on an absolute tear since his predictably short-lived slow start. He's totaled 100 yards and/or scored a touchdown in five straight games, and is fantasy football's No. 5 overall running back over that span. Consider Gore a locked-in RB1 play against Jacksonville's last-ranked run defense, which has shelled out 4.63 yards per carry and a league-high nine rushing touchdowns. Gore has rushed for 487 yards and four TDs on his last 97 carries (5.02 YPC).
Kaepernick's target distribution since Vernon Davis' hamstring healed three weeks ago: Davis 25; Anquan Boldin 20; Jon Baldwin and Bruce Miller 4; Gore, Vance McDonald, and Kyle Williams 3; Kendall Hunter 1. ... The Jaguars have allowed the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends and gave up nine receptions to Chargers TEs in Week 7. Only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron have scored more fantasy points at the position than Davis. ... This is a slightly tougher matchup for Boldin than meets the eye because Gus Bradley's defense prides itself on physical press-man coverage, which Boldin sometimes struggles to beat. Bradley admitted openly after last week's 24-6 loss to San Diego, however, that he's concerned with the effort of his 0-7 team. Perhaps Boldin's greatest strength at this stage of his career is effort. I think he's a rock-solid WR3. ... The Niners lack attractive fantasy options beyond Kap, Gore, Davis, and Boldin. Williams has started over Baldwin the past two weeks, with one 14-yard catch to show for it. This team is thirsting for Mario Manningham (knee, PUP), which says a lot about the decimated state of San Francisco's wide receiver corps. Manningham will most likely return in Week 10, after the Week 9 bye.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Jaguars 14
4:05PM ET Games
Pittsburgh @ Oakland
The Week 7 bye came at an ideal time for Oakland's offense, allowing C Stefen Wisniewski (knee) to get healthy in addition to Darren McFadden (hamstring). Approaching the stretch run of his contract year, McFadden has an opportunity at a big finish with a favorable schedule over the next six weeks that begins Sunday against Pittsburgh's No. 19 run defense, which has yielded six rushing TDs through six games. McFadden has averaged 18.5 touches in the four 2013 contests he's played start to finish. Lost amid DMC's durability concerns is Terrelle Pryor's impact on his team's running game. The Raiders rank fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (4.67), and dual-threat Pryor's mere presence can cause defensive linemen to either freeze or abort gaps, clearing alleys. McFadden is an intriguing trade target and quality RB2 against the Steelers. ... Pryor gets a tougher draw against Pittsburgh's top-four pass defense, which has limited enemy quarterbacks to five passing scores in six games, and the sixth stingiest yards-per-pass-attempt average in football. Steelers-Raiders is tied for the second lowest over-under of Week 8 at 40.5 points. Pryor should remain a fixture in two-QB-league lineups, but this isn't the week to QB1 stream him.
Pryor's 2013 targets: Denarius Moore 37, Rod Streater 26, Mychal Rivera 15, McFadden 13, Marcel Reece 12, Brice Butler 10, Jacoby Ford 9, Rashad Jennings 5. ... Moore has clearly ascended atop the Raiders' pass-game pecking order. He's on pace for career highs in catches (67), yards (1,064), and touchdowns (11), and is currently the No. 18 fantasy wideout in per-game scoring. Moore will run most of his routes at Steelers RCB Ike Taylor on Sunday. Pro Football Focus has graded 33-year-old Taylor 89th among 107 qualifying corners in coverage this season. Moore is an every-week WR3. ... The Raiders' offense runs the football too much to support more than one starting-caliber fantasy pass catcher, leaving possession wideout Streater as a WR5. Dating back to 2012, Streater has scored one touchdown over his last ten games. He's averaging 40.8 yards per game the past six weeks. ... It seems like every week the Raiders "promise" to involve Reece more as a ball handler. We're still waiting. He's exceeded four offensive touches in one game this year, and it was when McFadden couldn't play in Week 5 against the Chargers.
Although he didn't find pay dirt and hasn't since Week 4, Le'Veon Bell's Week 7 effort against a Baltimore defense that entered the game ranked No. 7 versus the run confirmed he is a plus NFL starter and Steelers building block moving forward. Bell was outstanding on the ground, averaging a season-high 4.89 yards per carry and playing 47-of-59 snaps (79.7%). Bell shed 20 pounds this spring following his final year at Michigan State. It's showing, as he's a quicker-twitch mover now with deceptive shake and nimble feet. In an improving Pittsburgh offense with his bye out of the way, Bell has RB1 upside going forward. Oakland ranks No. 9 versus the run, but coughed up 138 total yards and two touchdowns to Jamaal Charles in its last game. This could be the start of a hot stretch for Bell, who faces the run defenses of New England (No. 31), Buffalo (28th), and Detroit (23rd) over the following three weeks. Bell's perceived value hasn't yet caught up to his real-life value due to the brief TD drought. Target him in trades while he's still acquirable. ... The Raiders have been more vulnerable in the air than on the ground, ranking 16th in pass defense and tied for 23rd in sacks. They have a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against while allowing enemy passers to complete an AFC-high 68.3% of their throws. Ben Roethlisberger has been utilized as more of a game manager with Bell as the new centerpiece of OC Todd Haley's offense, but still has an attractive Week 8 matchup. I'd consider Big Ben a locked-in two-QB-league starter this week.
Roethlisberger's target distribution since Bell joined the lineup three games ago: Antonio Brown 31, Heath Miller 19, Emmanuel Sanders 16, Jerricho Cotchery 10, Bell 9, Derek Moye 2. ... The epitome of consistency, Brown has secured at least six passes in five consecutive games and is the No. 9 overall fantasy receiver scorer over that span despite having a bye week mixed in. He is an every-week WR2. ... Although Miller is catching the football efficiently and blocking well in the run game, the Steelers' recent scaling back of pass attempts limits his value to low-end TE1. Big Ben has only averaged 26.5 pass attempts per game since Pittsburgh emerged from its Week 5 open date. This was the offense Haley envisioned before the season: Ball control with Le'Veon at the forefront in an effort to preserve Roethlisberger's body. ... Sanders is now the third option in Pittsburgh's passing attack. His target total has dropped in three consecutive weeks. He's a WR4.
Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Raiders 20
NY Jets @ Cincinnati
Jets-Bengals reeks of a low-scoring slugfest between teams that both rank among the top nine in total defense. New York's capability of eliminating opposing run games is going to put an awful lot on Andy Dalton's plate, creating situations where he historically has not excelled. Dalton deserves kudos for back-to-back productive weeks, but he's now facing the best defense he's dealt with all year. Dalton has never seen a Rex Ryan-designed scheme. In standard leagues, don't go chasing Dalton's Weeks 6-7 stats into this game. ... Bill Belichick's aversion to run the football on the Jets last week (46:20 pass-to-run ratio) speaks volumes about New York's defensive strength. The Patriots installed Brandon Bolden as their primary back and attacked the Jets in spread looks. If the Bengals copy that approach, expect a lot more of Giovani Bernard than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Enemy lead back stats versus the Jets' No. 2 run defense this season: Doug Martin 24-65-1; Stevan Ridley 16-40-0; C.J. Spiller 10-9-0; Chris Johnson 15-21-0; Jacquizz Rodgers 14-43-2; Le'Veon Bell 16-34-0; Ridley 11-50-1. Plodding Law Firm will get swallowed up. ... The Jets are more vulnerable on the edges to fleet-footed, finesse scatbacks like Rodgers and Bernard, who can make coverage-deficient ILB David Harris look silly. Expect 14-plus touches from Gio in this game. I'd view Bernard as a solid RB2 in PPR and a plus flex starter in standard formats.
Beyond Bernard, the only other Bengal with an attractive Week 8 fantasy matchup is A.J. Green. Jets supposed top CB Antonio Cromartie is struggling mightily, ranking 107th of 107 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' cornerback coverage ratings. PFF has charted Cromartie with three touchdown passes allowed over his last four games. On a tear again, Green is the No. 5 overall fantasy receiver the past three weeks. ... Dalton's target distribution during his two-game hot stretch: Green 19, Bernard 13, Marvin Jones 11, Jermaine Gresham 9, Mohamed Sanu 8, Tyler Eifert 7, Green-Ellis 1. ... A critical figure in Dalton's likely-to-be-brief resurgence, Jones' Week 8 availability is in doubt due to a shoulder injury. This would be an underrated loss for the Bengals because Jones has been making plays in the passing game, whereas "starting" No. 2 receiver Sanu has not. ... The Jets are 16th in fantasy points permitted to tight ends, making for a middling matchup when it comes to Gresham and Eifert. Eifert caught a Week 7 touchdown pass -- the first of his NFL career -- but has seen more than five targets in just one game all season. More the every-down tight end of the two, Gresham is on pace for 64 catches and 627 scoreless yards.
Friday Update: Jones (shoulder) returned to practice Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday's sessions. While Jones isn't a reliable standalone fantasy option -- he's the Bengals' No. 3 receiver -- his return is positive news for Dalton's outlook as a two-quarterback-league play.
The Jets' offense won't have an easy go, either. The host Bengals rank No. 13 in pass defense and eighth versus the run, keying a team that has won five of its last six games. Geno Smith has looked like a franchise quarterback in clean pockets this year, but wildly turnover prone when pressured. Cincinnati has up-front personnel to generate overwhelming heat with Geno Atkins collapsing the interior at three technique, and LE Carlos Dunlap catching fire after a sluggish start. Smith is only worth fantasy consideration in two-quarterback leagues. Cincinnati's fantasy defense is a good play. ... Smith's target distribution since Santonio Holmes suffered his multi-week hamstring injury: Jeremy Kerley 23; Jeff Cumberland 16; Stephen Hill 15; David Nelson 10; Bilal Powell 7; Chris Ivory 2. ... Although slot receiver Kerley lacks big-play ability and is more useful to move the chains, he's predictably settled in as Smith's most reliable option and has led the Jets in targets in two of their last three games. Kerley gets a Week 8 matchup boost due to the absence of Bengals top CB Leon Hall, who covered the slot in all nickel formations. Expect to see 2012 first-round disappointment Dre Kirkpatrick in the slot role this week. At 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds, Kirkpatrick is bigger and leggier than a prototype inside corner. Kerley is set up for a solid game.
Although Hill's performance and target totals have been inconsistent, he too has plus man-to-man matchups with Bengals outside CBs Pacman Jones and Terence Newman. 35-year-old Newman is beginning to show his age. 30-year-old Jones has been a major liability, and goes 5-foot-10, 180 to Hill's 6-foot-4, 215. Hill is always a boom-or-bust roll of the dice, but there is reason to believe he can get behind Cincinnati's defense. ... The Bengals are 18th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, so this isn't a great matchup for Cumberland. Cumberland is a mid-level TE2. ... The Jets insisted publicly this week that Ivory's Week 7 domination of carries (34 to Powell's 3) was game-plan based, and that could be true as they scrounged up ways to exploit New England's Vince Wilfork-less defense. It worked, as Ivory banged out 104 yards and put the Patriots away in fourth-quarter clock-killing mode. Before the season -- and before his recurring hamstring woes -- the Jets envisioned a backfield where Ivory handled first and second downs, with Mike Goodson as his change-of-pace and third-down complement. Look for Powell in the latter role now, with Ivory handling 15-plus weekly runs. As alluded to above, this is not a great matchup for any ground game. But if the volume is there, Ivory is capable of capitalizing with BeastModian run skills. He's a respectable flex option. ... Powell's fantasy value is minimal in standard leagues, but he's worth hanging onto for PPR owners. Ivory certainly is not a great bet to stay healthy, and Powell's versatility will keep him involved. Powell just isn't on the fantasy-start radar this week.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Jets 17
4:25PM ET Games
Atlanta @ Arizona
Atlanta's defense has been a slump buster for pass games this year. Talent deficient and unable to muster up pass rush, the Falcons have allowed a combined 118-of-185 passing (63.8%) for 1,359 yards (7.35 YPA) and a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio to Mike Glennon, Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill, receiver-depleted Tom Brady, and Sam Bradford over their last five games. I'm well aware of how poorly Carson Palmer has played since the opener. I'm also aware his coach, Bruce Arians, is one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football, and is coming off a long week to make corrections. Back at home, I like Palmer as a two-quarterback-league option and sneaky desperation QB1 streamer in perhaps his most favorable matchup all year. ... The Falcons have been gashed in the slot, a trend that dates back to Week 2. Enemy slot receiver stats against Atlanta during that stretch: Tavon Austin 6-47-2; Brandon Gibson 6-49; Julian Edelman 7-118; Jeremy Kerley 5-68-1; Vincent Jackson 10-138-2. (V-Jax is not widely recognized as a slot receiver, but has seen 38 of his 75 targets in the slot this season, per PFF's Mike Clay.) Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald is playing 45% of his snaps at slot receiver. Returning from a ten-day layoff following last Thursday night's loss to Seattle, Fitzgerald's hamstring should be as healthy as it's been since September. Still a top-16 overall fantasy receiver, Fitzgerald is set up for a Week 8 bounce-back game.
Palmer's target distribution since Rob Housler returned from injury in Week 3: Fitz and Michael Floyd 40, Andre Ellington 27, Housler and Andre Roberts 19, Rashard Mendenhall 8, Jim Dray 7. ... Floyd has clearly emerged as Arizona's No. 2 pass-game option, putting him on the WR3 radar every week. He has a fairly difficult Week 8 matchup, however, against Falcons LCB Asante Samuel. Floyd is running the majority of his routes at opposing left corners. ... Neither are every-down players, but Housler's snaps have gone up as Roberts' have gone down. Housler has ascending TE2 value; it's just difficult to get excited about him this week against a Falcons defense allowing the ninth fewest receptions and yards to tight ends. ... Ellington can only be considered a dicey week-to-week flex until Arians commits to him as a featured part of the offense. Ellington has yet to play more than 32 snaps in any game, and his season-high for touches is 12. He has more value in PPR leagues due to his pass-game role, but Arians still isn't showing any signs of turning Ellington into a lead running back. ... Mendenhall has managed 156 yards on his last 62 carries (2.52 YPC), and is essentially entering BenJarvus Green-Ellis territory as a value-draining back whose payoff as a fantasy start is tied entirely to goal-line plunges, and is having a limiting effect on a superior talent in the same backfield. Mendenhall is and will continue to be a low-ceiling, undesirable flex option. Playing top-11 run defense, the Falcons have allowed two rushing TDs through six games.
Friday Update: Mendenhall missed practice Friday with a toe injury and is listed as doubtful to face Atlanta. Arians confirmed Ellington will start, but the Cardinals' coaching staff has been noncommittal on promoting him to a true feature back role, even with Mendenhall almost certain to be inactive. Stepfan Taylor, Ryan Williams, and Alfonso Smith will also be in the mix for carries. Ellington remains a flex play, but with increased attractiveness this week. Expect him to hover in the 14-16 touch range rather than the 7-12 he was previously seeing.
Atlanta's surprise Week 7 offensive explosion took place against a Bucs team that has already called it a season, so it'll be interesting to see whether the Falcons can continue to rack up points against competitive foes. The Vegas prognosticators aren't buying it, installing the Cardinals as 2.5-point favorites in Week 8. If Atlanta is going to have offensive success in this matchup, it'll likely be through the air. Arizona rushes the passer poorly and has allowed 13 passing TDs, ninth most in the NFL. I'd view Matt Ryan as a borderline QB1. I don't think last week's stats are a reliable indicator of what's to come for "Matty Ice." ... Ryan's targets in Atlanta's first game since the Week 6 bye: Jacquizz Rodgers 9, Harry Douglas 7, Tony Gonzalez 4, Darius Johnson 3, Brian Robiskie and Drew Davis 1. ... Expect a bounce-back game from Gonzalez after a slow Week 7. The Cardinals have allowed the most receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the league to tight ends. Not normally big passing-game contributors, Seahawks TEs combined for a 7-64-2 stat line against Arizona in their last game. ... In the absence of Julio Jones (foot) and Roddy White (ankle, hamstring), the Falcons' new three-receiver package has Douglas in the slot, Davis at Z (White's position), and Johnson at X (Julio's spot). Douglas was the featured receiver against Tampa and will likely keep that role moving forward. Because he runs so many routes as an inside slot receiver, Douglas should escape perimeter CB Patrick Peterson's coverage on a good dose of Sunday's snaps. View Douglas as a WR3, though I'd be skeptical he'll keep producing like he did last week. A sixth-year player, Douglas set a career high in yards (149) against the mutinous Bucs.
Davis is the Falcons' new No. 2 receiver. He played 43-of-48 snaps (89.6%) in Week 7, but was targeted just once. Little suggests Davis is worth adding in fantasy leagues. ... Johnson is the No. 3, playing Julio's old position in three-wide sets, with Douglas entering the slot. Johnson caught 2-of-3 targets for 24 yards against Tampa. ... Steven Jackson's expected return from a six-week hamstring injury will render Jacquizz Rodgers a situational passing-down back. Jason Snelling probably won't play against the Cardinals due to an ankle injury. When S-Jax was healthy in Week 1, he played 36 snaps and handled 16 touches compared to Quizz's 16 downs and three touches. So Rodgers isn't going to be much of a Week 8 fantasy option. … Jackson will probably be eased back in to some extent, and has a difficult matchup. Arizona ranks No. 7 versus the run, permits just 3.59 yards per carry, and has given up three rushing touchdowns through seven games. I own Jackson in one of my leagues and will start Zac Stacy over him.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 23, Falcons 21
Washington @ Denver
Redskins-Broncos sets up as a Week 8 shootout as Denver's No. 1 offense hosts Washington's No. 24 defense, which is surrendering the third most points per game in football and has missed more tackles than any team in the league. This sets up as a particularly big game for Knowshon Moreno. Change-of-pace back Ronnie Hillman lost a critical Week 7 goal-line fumble in Denver's 39-33 loss to Indianapolis, which figures to translate to more Week 8 work for the Broncos' lead runner. And the Skins are getting gashed by the run, serving up a league-high nine rushing scores on top of 4.64 yards per carry. The Bears lit them up for 140 yards and three TDs on 22 runs (6.36 YPC) last week. I'd rank Moreno as a top-five RB1 in this matchup. ... More reason to expect Week 8 Broncos rushing success is the Redskins' loss of in-the-box SS Brandon Meriweather (suspension). Skins RE Stephen Bowen will attempt to play through a torn PCL in his knee. A bad defense is now becoming depleted. ... Here is the Broncos' backfield touch distribution over the past three weeks: Moreno 64, Hillman 22, Montee Ball 12. ... I'd rather stash Ball than Hillman at this point. Hillman has fumbled in consecutive weeks and would only be a change-of-pace back in the event of a Moreno injury. The organization does not envision him as a lead-type runner. Ball has disappointed in real life and fantasy to this point, but I think he would get the majority of early-down and goal-line work if Moreno went down.
Friday Update: The Denver Post reported Friday Hillman will be scratched against the Redskins following his back-breaking Week 7 lost fumble, moving Ball and UDFA C.J. Anderson up the depth chart. Anderson outplayed Ball during the preseason, and is worth a stash in 14- and 16-team leagues. Hillman can be dropped. Ball remains the preferred Moreno handcuff, though not by much over Anderson. The handcuff situation in Denver has big potential fantasy implications because the next-man-up would be the lead back in the NFL's best offense if Moreno missed time.
Keep an eye on Peyton Manning against the Redskins. After taking a shot from Robert Mathis on a second-quarter safety last Sunday night, Manning's velocity and ball placement were noticeably diminished and he didn't seem to trust his arm on several throws. Manning went 7-of-10 (70.0%) for 92 yards (9.2 YPA) and two touchdowns before the hit. After it, he completed 22-of-39 (56.4%) for 294 yards (7.54 YPA), one score, and a pick. I'm not saying he's done, or that he is seriously injured. I'm just saying it's something to monitor because he was markedly less effective after the safety. ... Peyton's target distribution after Mathis' hit: Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker 10; Eric Decker 9; Moreno 6; Julius Thomas 5. ... So Manning didn't suddenly start locking onto a particular receiver. The Thomases, Welker, and Decker are all recommended Week 8 fantasy starts, as usual, against Washington's No. 22 pass defense. ... Decker, by the way, is the No. 2 overall fantasy receiver behind only Dez Bryant over the past five weeks. Welker is No. 4, and Demaryius is No. 8. Orange Julius is the No. 4 tight end behind only Jordan Cameron, Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis. So everyone involved is a locked-in, every-week fantasy starter.
Skins-Broncos has the week's highest over-under at 58.5 points. You want to play quarterbacks in high-scoring affairs, and this sets up as one with Robert Griffin III returning from his best game of 2013. Making incremental progress each week coming off January knee surgery, Griffin ran with explosion for the second straight game and passed with better ball placement than he has all year in Washington's Week 7 win over Chicago. More running from Griffin opens up the play-action game, making defenses easier to diagnose with "either-or" reads. RG3 is about to go on a roll. ... Griffin's targets since the Week 5 bye: Pierre Garcon 23; Jordan Reed 15; Leonard Hankerson 11; Roy Helu 8; Santana Moss 5; Aldrick Robinson 2; Josh Morgan and Alfred Morris 1. ... With RG3's passing improving and Washington's defense not -- Josh McCown came off the bench to move Chicago's offense with ease against them last week -- it's a great time to buy on Garcon, who hasn't scored a touchdown since September but has double-digit targets in 4-of-6 games and no fewer than seven targets in any week. That's not gonna change. The Redskins are a shootout team now, and Garcon plays the featured "X" position in Shanahan & Son's offense, which is the focal point of their passing attack. Enemy No. 1 receivers versus Denver's defense the past five weeks: Denarius Moore 6-124-1, DeSean Jackson 2-34, Dez Bryant 6-141-2, Justin Blackmon 14-190, Reggie Wayne 5-50 (torn ACL). Not many hiccups in there. Garcon is a high-ceiling WR2.
Reed has emerged as Washington's No. 2 pass option, playing the old Shannon Sharpe role for Shanahan, while Garcon holds down the Rod Smith-Brandon Marshall-Javon Walker fort. Denver has allowed the fifth most catches and fourth most yards to tight ends. ... Streak-route specialist Robinson caught two long balls in Week 7 at Chicago, including a 45-yard TD, but wasn't RG3's primary read on the score and has gone target-less in 4-of-6 games. He played 12 snaps against the Bears. Robinson is a boom-or-bust player who more often than not busts. ... Still rotating with Morgan at Z receiver, Hankerson isn't a big part of Washington's passing game, though he'd be a better WR3 bet than Robinson or Moss. Hankerson has big-play potential off play action. He's only averaging 5.5 targets per game, unfortunately. ... Since Washington's Week 5 bye, Morris has played 77 snaps with 35 touches, compared to Helu's 78 snaps and 22 touches. Helu always got a lot of playing time because he excels in the passing game and Morris doesn't, but the fact that the Redskins are now making a serious effort to put the ball in Helu's hands is a concern for Morris' owners. Morris is still running with elite efficiency -- 432 yards on his last 80 carries (5.40 YPC) -- but needs to be downgraded from RB1 to high-end RB2 for the time being. … Helu's three red-zone TDs can't be trusted from last week, but he's now squarely on the flex radar along with similarly-used backs like Danny Woodhead and Andre Ellington. Morris remains the back to own and use at Denver. Helu is more of a situational-football gamble. If the Redskins play a lot of “turbo” hurry-up offense and/or are trailing on the scoreboard, Helu could very well pay fantasy dividends.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Redskins 28
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ Minnesota
Vikings management gave up on Christian Ponder in September. They'll begrudgingly turn back to him this week after Josh Freeman's Monday night concussion. Expecting even a short-term spark from a quarterback with a sub-60% career completion rate and 37:39 all-purpose TD-to-INT ratio would be too bold, but Ponder couldn't possibly be worse than Freeman was against the Giants. Freeman could've faced Vanderbilt this week and I still wouldn't have considered him in a two-QB league. ... Ponder started Weeks 1-3. His target distribution: Jerome Simpson 21, Greg Jennings 19, Kyle Rudolph 18, Adrian Peterson 12, Jarius Wright 8, Cordarrelle Patterson 7, John Carlson 5, Toby Gerhart 4. ... Jennings is the lone Minnesota pass catcher I'd consider as a dice-roll fantasy start with Ponder back, mostly because Jennings is the Vikings' best, most consistent receiver. And that's not saying much. Simpson dropped a long would-be touchdown bomb against the Giants and remains an inefficient, maddening player to try to predict. ... Rudolph's stat lines in Ponder's 2013 starts: 2-27, 3-42-1, 5-28. Owners desperate enough to consider Rudolph could perhaps hang their hat on the fact that Green Bay has allowed the third most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Quarterback play remains a bigger obstacle than any matchup for Rudolph.
Patterson played a season-high 25 snaps in Week 7 and was primarily utilized on screen plays. He's got a long touchdown in him this season. I just have no idea when it'll come. He's a kickoff returner and No. 4 receiver behind Jennings, Simpson, and Wright. ... Simpson is more likely to be shut down by Green Bay CBs Sam Shields and Davon House, who put clamps on Josh Gordon in last week's win. Leave out the Detroit game because Calvin Johnson was inactive, and the Packers have held the following top-enemy perimeter receivers to the following stat lines: Gordon 2-21; Torrey Smith 1-2; A.J. Green 4-46-1. Simpson and Wright are the Vikings' top perimeter wideouts. A slot/Z receiver, Jennings has received 33 targets this year inside the numbers or within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, per PFF. Jennings has only been targeted outside the numbers downfield seven times, resulting in two completions. He's been a volume-possession receiver, which at least theoretically plays to Ponder's passing strengths. ... Peterson acknowledged this past Tuesday his tweaked hamstring felt "tight at times" against the Giants. For more on Peterson's going-forward outlook, I'd encourage you to listen to Sigmund Bloom's On The Couch podcast at this link. The podcast starts off with an in-depth Peterson discussion.
I'm not saying Jarrett Boykin is Wes Welker, and I'm not saying Jordy Nelson is Randy Moss. I'm saying Boykin could reap benefits similar to those Welker used to playing inside of Moss. Nelson's coverage-tilting magnetism will enhance with Jermichael Finley (spine) and Randall Cobb (fibula) out indefinitely, and James Jones (PCL sprain) week to week. Playing the old Cobb role, Boykin will gobble up short to intermediate targets because opponents will allow him to. And he plays in one of the most receiver-friendly offenses in football. I think Boykin is here to stay as an every-week candidate for 8-12 targets per game. I'd start him with excitement versus Minnesota's No. 29 pass defense. ... Minus Finley, the tight end-desperate Packers will turn to a rotation of in-line blocker Andrew Quarless and developmental project Brandon Bostick. Quarless managed three catches for 21 yards on five targets in a Week 3 spot start when Finley was concussed and can't be trusted in fantasy leagues until he actually does something. Bostick is a far more athletic onetime small forward at Newberry College who ran 4.59 at his 2012 Pro Day. Offering more upside than Quarless, Bostick is worth stashing as a TE2 in 14- and 16-team leagues, and should be rostered throughout Dynasty settings. Bostick is going to get an extended opportunity to shine.
Nelson is a top-ten real-life NFL receiver and top-five wideout in fantasy. He beat Joe Haden for a touchdown last week, the only end-zone trip Haden has allowed all season. You might want to start Nelson against the sorry Vikings defense. ... He's been an advised trade target in this space for weeks, but if the Eddie Lacy owner in your league still doesn't value him as an RB1, send in a two-for-one trade offer before Sunday. Lacy's bye is out of the way and he's headed for a wicked tear with Minnesota, Chicago, Philly, the Giants, Minnesota again, and Detroit on the forthcoming slate. A legit every-down back in Green Bay's No. 2 total offense, Lacy has played 84% of the Packers' backfield snaps over the past two weeks, and handled 85% of the running back touches. The Bettisian rookie set a career-high with five receptions last week. Lacy is going to carry fantasy teams to 2013 trophies. There aren't eight running backs I'd rather have rostered moving forward.
Score Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 17
Monday Night Football
Seattle @ St. Louis
St. Louis took major steps toward building its offense around Zac Stacy before Sam Bradford's ACL tear, scrapping spread looks in favor of run-friendly formations and turning No. 2 TE Lance Kendricks into an every-down player. While overall production is sure to take a hit with Kellen Clemens now quarterbacking, fantasy owners can still hang their hats on volume and Stacy's passing-game growth. Stacy's targets, receptions, and touches have increased every week since he was installed as a starter. It may sound crazy, but is true: He's emerged as the Rams' best player on offense. And they'll need him even more now. This is one of many difficult matchups Stacy will face the rest of the way, but he's going to get the ball a lot. And that gives him RB2/flex value, even if the quarterback downgrade caves in Stacy's ceiling. ... Otherwise, it's difficult to imagine the Rams generating offense against Seattle's No. 2 defense, which also ranks No. 2 versus the pass, fourth in sacks, second in interceptions, and second in passer rating allowed (66.1). This is a nightmare matchup for fill-in Clemens, whom I'll bet the Rams bench within a few weeks even if it's with practice squadder Austin Davis or a street free agent. In August, the Rams hoped Davis would beat out Clemens for Bradford's backup job. It didn't happen despite four preseason picks and a 48.9% completion rate from Clemens. This past week, the Rams tried luring Brett Favre off his tractor. OC Brian Schottenheimer has lots of history with Clemens from their Jets days, and the Rams are not high on him. It's very telling.
This sample size is obviously too small to be predictive, but Clemens targeted Jared Cook twice among his four pass attempts after replacing Bradford last week, and spread the remaining two amongst Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson. ... Matchups don't matter for pass catchers when their quarterback is incapable of moving the offense, and that's the most likely scenario Monday night versus Seattle. The rested Seahawks defense is coming off a long week after a Thursday night win. Beyond Stacy, playing any St. Louis skill-position player in a fantasy league is a total shot in the dark. ... Tavon Austin's role has been reduced by Schottenheimer due to the revised, run-heavy approach. He is not an effective blocking receiver. Austin did play 32 snaps in Week 7 -- his most since Week 4 -- but lost a fumble and had a 64-yard touchdown negated by penalty. I think fantasy owners should hang onto Austin as a WR5 just to see what happens, but he clearly can't be trusted as a Week 8 fantasy play. ... Look for Austin Pettis to tangle with LCB Richard Sherman on the majority of Monday night's snaps, while Givens takes on RCB Brandon Browner. The Rams' perimeter receivers will have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. ... Cook has not hit 50 yards or scored a touchdown since Week 1. He can be safely sent to fantasy waiver wires.
This one'll be played at the Edward Jones Dome, but is a game I think the Seahawks will have no trouble controlling. The Vegas prognosticators agree, installing Seattle as 11-point favorites on the road. The Seahawks play run-first offense and the Rams play soft run defense, allowing the third most rushing yards in football and seven rushing TDs through seven games. St. Louis just doesn't match up well with Seattle. These are Marshawn Lynch's last four stat lines against the Rams: 18-100; 20-118-1; 23-115-1; 27-88-1. ... Similar to their approach last year, the Seahawks opened the season utilizing Russell Wilson conservatively. They eventually loosened the reins and let Wilson be who he is -- a controlled playmaker who plays fast but doesn't hurry. The same is happening in 2013, only earlier in the year. Over the last five weeks, Wilson has a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging 63.2 rushing yards per game. Only Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees have scored more fantasy quarterback points than Wilson during that span. Wilson is a locked-in fantasy QB1 again. With Percy Harvin due back soon to upgrade the explosiveness of Seattle's receiver corps, Wilson can be trusted as an every-week starter the rest of the way. ... The Seahawks are publicly leaving Harvin's (hip, PUP) Week 8 availability to a game-time decision. My guess is he won't play, and even if he does would only play a handful of snaps. Owners should target Week 9 against Tampa for Harvin's fantasy debut.
Wilson's target distribution during his five-week hot run: Golden Tate 38, Sidney Rice 24, Doug Baldwin 20, Luke Willson 14, Lynch and Zach Miller 13, Jermaine Kearse 9, Robert Turbin 3. ... Noteworthy enemy wideout stats against St. Louis' leaky secondary: Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2; Andre Johnson 7-88. ... The stats suggest one Seahawks receiver will probably have a strong Monday night game. Seattle's run-dominated offensive style combined with Wilson's tendency to throw to the open man rather than pepper a "No. 1" wideout with targets typically prevents just that. If a Seattle receiver is to deliver, Tate is always the best bet because he's targeted the most and has big-play talent. I'd view Tate as a mid-range WR3. ... Otherwise, complementary pass catchers Rice, Baldwin, Willson/Miller, and Kearse are in a constant uphill battle for productive box-score numbers. With Harvin soon to return, I think there's a good argument to be made that Rice, Baldwin, Willson/Miller, and Kearse aren't even worth rostering.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 10