In “Start or Sit,” we make a call on players who merit strong starting consideration — and players who might be best on the bench. However, owners should tailor their own lineup strategy to their roster constraints, league rules and other relevant factors.
Here’s our Week Eight rundown:
Panthers QB Cam Newton (at Chicago) — I’m fully aware that he hasn’t played as well as a season ago. I know that he’s on pace to throw for significantly fewer TDs and to rush for fewer scores than a season ago. This hasn’t been a banner season for him by any stretch. Nevertheless, he’s not lacking in talent, and save for Robert Griffin III, there isn’t a dual-threat quarterback like him. In my view, Newton is very difficult to sit unless you have an absolute upper-echelon quarterback waiting in the wings. His rushing ability is the clincher; even if he doesn’t put up huge passing numbers, he can get you 10-12 extra points on the ground. I say to keep rolling with Newton, for the downside risk of sitting him exceeds the upside of such a move, especially if you’re starting a pure pocket passer in his place. One more note: Newton had a huge game against Chicago last October, throwing for 374 yards and a TD and rushing for a pair of scores and 35 yards. While this Bears defense is in far better form, I would still have no qualms playing Newton.
Packers RB Alex Green (vs. Jacksonville) — In two games as the Packers’ starter, Green has had plenty of rushing attempts (42) but not many yards (100). However, Green is an intriguing option against struggling Jacksonville. Green has good speed, and he’s getting a lot of work. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to see a productive game from him Sunday. This is his third start, and it’s his first at home. What’s more, this is the most vulnerable opponent he has faced in a full-time role.
Cowboys RB Felix Jones (vs. N.Y. Giants) — Jones missed practice on Wednesday with a bruised knee, but he was back in action on Thursday, and he’s a recommended play in Week Eight. The Giants are allowing 5.0 yards per carry, and the Cowboys have shown a new commitment to the run game of late, with nearly half of their rushes on the season coming in the past two games.
Lions RB Mikel Leshoure (vs. Seattle) — I’ve started to buy into Leshoure. In his first two games after Detroit’s bye, he has gained 133 yards on 27 carries (4.9 ypc). I like him against a Seahawks defense that was gashed by the 49ers’ running game in Week Seven. To me, Leshoure’s an intriguing trade target. He has scored only one TD in four games, and the Lions’ offense isn’t quite as productive from a points-scored perspective compared to 2011, so perhaps he’s a little undervalued. However, he’s a featured back with fresh legs in an offense with upside. He’s a sleeper.
Cardinals wide receivers (vs. San Francisco) — Yes, Larry Fitzgerald is a must-play for many owners, but some might look at this matchup and wonder if it’s time to give him a week on the bench. I wouldn’t do it. Fitzgerald had TD catches in both games against San Francisco in 2011, and he racked up 149 yards on seven targets (nine catches) in the second meeting with the Niners a season ago. Andre Roberts, who leads the Cardinals with five TDs, is another fine starting option. He has scored in 4-of-7 games, and he has only 70 fewer receiving yards than Fitzgerald on 11 fewer catches.
Any passing-game players and kickers you’re not completely sure about in a few “rain” games — According to weather website Weather Underground, rain is likely in the following games on Sunday: Miami-N.Y. Jets, Atlanta-Philadelphia, Washington-Pittsburgh. What’s more, rain is quite possible in San Diego-Cleveland. Weather is a tricky factor for fantasy owners to weigh. Owners don’t want to overreact and sit star passing-game players because of a rainy forecast. However, owners — especially those in bigger leagues who are depending upon complementary players in these games — need to keep an eye on the weather Sunday morning. If conditions look challenging, adjust accordingly. Fantasy owners with kickers in these games need to be particularly careful. If you need to start a kicker in the rain, I would side with specialists who are kicking at home, with experience kicking outdoors in the elements a major plus. (Cleveland’s Phil Dawson jumps to mind.) Finally, persistent rain would upgrade the stock of running backs in these games.
Bears QB Jay Cutler (vs. Carolina) — The matchup suggests that Cutler is a starting option. The Panthers are allowing opponents to complete 68.4 percent of their passes (the second-highest percentage in the league), and Cutler facing a struggling opponent at home is an attractive proposition. However, I’m a little lukewarm on Cutler. He’s playing with injured ribs, and if the Bears jump out to a lead, why wouldn’t they lean on their running game and try to minimize Cutler’s risk of taking more hits? In two-QB formats and deep one-QB leagues, Cutler is still a decent option, but I wonder about his upside in Week Eight.
Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings (at Green Bay) — Here’s another case where I believe game flow could work against a player. If the Jaguars fall behind, which is rather possible, they might have to abandon the run. While Jennings did rack up 58 receiving yards and a TD a week ago, I wouldn’t be ready to count on that sort of production just yet. Also, note that Jennings has gained just 90 yards on 34 carries this season. He’s not a surefire Week Eight start in my book.
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