It sure would be nice to be a Reggie Bush owner right now (which I am not). His bye is out of the way, and he's got an absolute cakewalk of a schedule over the next month during the remainder of the bye weeks — NYJ, IND, TEN, BUF. If Bush can stay healthy, he could be key to a postseason berth for many fantasy owners.
Andrew Luck has already sat, and he has the easiest schedule over the next month among QBs. Earlier in the year I picked up Luck in one league in which I have Tom Brady. That team is struggling and I'm now planning to deal Brady for help elsewhere, rolling with Luck the rest of the way as I try to salvage the season.
At wide receiver, Oakland has the cushiest set-up from now until Thanksgiving. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was moving around nicely last week, and Denarius Moore could be integral to fantasy success in the coming weeks. Like Bush and Luck, the Raiders wideouts have already sat out. As you look to survive the month ahead in fantasy, it might be worth taking a look at which players have great schedules and have already observed their bye. They make for good trade targets or, if you own some of these players (like my Luck example), it may help you feel better about dealing somebody else.
Alright, let's take an early tour of the Week 8 landscape, Skinny-style:
Total Week 8 green-light plays by position: 10 QB; 12 RB; 15 WR; 10 TE; 6 DST
Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring
Least FPPG allowed (QB): ARI; SF; SEA; CHI; DAL
• Philip Rivers ranks just 22nd in FAN PPG at the QB position, this despite having played the easiest fantasy schedule for a QB, to this point. It sure doesn't look like he has much confidence in the guys he's throwing to right now. And his decision making has been atrocious. He left must-start territory a long time ago, so don't get too excited about him facing the 2nd-most generous defense in fantasy to opposing QBs (CLE) this week.
• Tony Romo hasn't fared much better than Rivers, ranking 20th in FAN PPG at QB. But his schedule to this point, ranks as the toughest for QBs, so he's got much more of an excuse than Rivers. Romo's softest matchup, for fantasy purposes, came in the first game of the '12 campaign against the NY Giants, and he threw for 307 yards and 3 TDs (Kevin Ogletree!). In his past four (full-game) meetings with the Giants, he's averaged 327 passing yards and has thrown for a combined 12 TD passes. The Giants allow the 3rd-most yards per pass attempt this season, so I'd be more than happy to roll with Romo this week.
• Matthew Stafford had a rough performance on Monday night in Week 7. But he looked much better in the second half of the loss to the Bears. And Detroit probably would have won the game had the team not insisted on fumbling most every time it got within striking distance of the end zone. The road game against Chicago is a nice warm up for another brutal matchup (Seattle). Stafford, who has attempted 42-plus pass in all but one game, gets to play at home this time and I think he rebounds with a more than serviceable fantasy line.
• Cam Newton is averaging 54 rushing yards and has 3 rushing TDs in his past five games. So despite the fact that he's a mess throwing the ball right now and he's facing a Chicago defense that is 4th-toughest in fantasy vs. opposing QBs, Newton still remains in must-start territory. That said, the Bears have allowed the 2nd-fewest fantasy points on the ground to QBs, and they've faced Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, two very mobile QBs. Newton, at No. 12 on my ranks, is about as low as I'll go with him.
• Carolina has held all but one QB (Matt Ryan) to 1 TD pass or less. That list includes Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Josh Freeman and Russell Wilson. If you're looking for a reason to avoid Jay Cutler, and I usually am, here you go.
• Quick hitters: Arizona has allowed 35 sacks, which is 9 more than any other team … Tennessee allows the highest QB Rating in the league, making Andrew Luck a slam dunk QB1 this week … Washington and Tampa Bay lead the league in pass plays allowed of 40-plus yards. Note the high ranking for Ben Roethlisberger (and big play specialist) Mike Wallace this week against the 'Skins … Drew Brees leads QBs in RZ pass attempts, pass attempts inside the 10-yard line and pass attempts inside the 5-yard line. And, even though Brees has already had his bye, nobody is even close in these categories.
Least FPPG allowed (RB): CHI; SF; HOU; DET; SEA
• Atlanta allows 5.2 yards per carry (YPC), 2nd-worst in the league. That's the obvious reason why I'm ranking LeSean McCoy, who is 2nd in the league in touches per game (behind Arian Foster) No. 1 on my RB board this week.
• I was bullish on Matt Forte last week, and he finished with a solid 22/96 rushing line against Detroit on Monday night. But he didn't find the end zone, and he didn't pad his numbers in the passing game. Count on him getting a little more involved with Cutler this week as no team allows more receiving yards per game to RBs (69.5) than Carolina.
• Adrian Peterson is the early industry consensus No. 1 RB for this week, and that is where I initially put him on my list. But we have to give Tampa Bay some credit for the stingiest YPC allowed mark in the league (3.1). But, I'm not docking AP too much, as he's quickly proven that his knee is no longer an issue, nor is a tough defense like, say, Arizona, too much of a concern (23/153/1 in Week 7).
• After facing Buffalo's league-worst defense last week, and absolutely destroying it (18/195/2), Chris Johnson gets another cherry matchup this week against Indy. It's all systems go for Johnson now, and his four duds now don't look nearly as bad when you consider that they came early in the year, when offensive lines often struggle to get in sync, against four very strong run defenses — New England (3.3) and San Diego (3.5) rank among the top 4 in YPC allowed, while Detroit and Minnesota rank among the top 6 in fewest FAN PPG allowed to RBs.
• My critique of Mikel Leshoure is that he's not very instinctive in terms of finding daylight, and he can't run away from anyone when he does. But he's a tough, high-motor runner who doesn't shy away from contact, and he adds some quality receiving skills to the mix. It's what makes him a good bet for 80-100 YFS most weeks, but don't ever count on much more than that. Against a strong Seattle defense, he's a not terrible No. 2 RB for the reasons mentioned. Another 83 YFS effort like he just hung on the Bears is well within the realm of possibilities.
• Alex Green was called out by Mike McCarthy for a miserable performance at St. Louis on Sunday (20/35/0), and deservedly so. But the Rams are a tough defense, and you still have to like that Green picked up 20 carries for the second consecutive week. Assuming the plodding James Starks (2.2 YPC) remains a wallflower in Week 8, look for a sure-to-be-motivated Green to bounce back with healthy numbers against a Jacksonville defense allowing the 4th-most FAN PPG to RBs. There should be plenty of second half work for Green in what should be a blowout win for Green Bay.
• I didn't bother ranking DeAngelo Williams this week. That's partly due to the fact that he's facing the Bears, but more about his demotion in the Carolina backfield. Williams handled just two carries on Sunday, and touched the pigskin just six times the previous game. It appears fantasy's most famous platoon backfield system may finally be crumbling, with Jonathan Stewart ascending to the featured role. Too bad they face Chicago this week. In fact, Carolina's next four opponents have all allowed fewer than 4.0 YPC. Featured role, or not, Stewart is going to have a hard time seeing the top 20 among RBs in this space any time soon.
• Shonn Greene has looked good of late and I mentioned the possibility in the Week 7 Skinny that he might represent against New England, which he definitely did (88 YFS, TD). But I can't endorse him this week against Miami. The Dolphins, like New England, allow just 3.3 YPC. And Greene has never even sniffed success against the 'Fins, averaging 35 rushing yards and failing to find the end zone in seven career meetings.
Least FPPG allowed (WR): SF; NYJ; SEA; MIN; DAL
• Last week, I talked about how Chris Givens was, essentially, Josh Gordon without all the hoopla. Of course, Gordon's getting all the attention because his big plays have been going for touchdowns, which is fair enough. But Givens landed a 50-yard catch for his fourth straight game last week and now he gets to face a New England defense that leads the league with 39 pass plays allowed of 20-plus yards, which is 10 more than any other team. Fantasy owners should look forward to another "Thanks Givens" in Week 8.
• As an invested owner, I hate to say it, but Steve Smith remains unplayable for the time being. He's a big play guy facing a defense in Chicago that is the only unit yet to allow a 40-yard pass play. According to ProFootballFocus.com metrics, Bears CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings both rank in the top 10 in pass coverage among corners this year. Yeah, forget Brandon Lafell as a Flex play this week, too.
• As far as CB duos go, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner might be the best in the league, even better than Chicago's Tillman and Jennings. ProFootballFocus.com's numbers support that claim, as Sherman and Browner both rank among the top 5 corners, and both are big, physical, press-loving corners. Calvin Johnson struggled with Tillman's physical approach on Monday night, and Antoine Winfield, PPF's top-ranked corner, got the best of MegaTron in Week 4 (5/54/0). Obviously, you're not going to bench Johnson given the matchup, ever, but I'm also not going to continue to blindly slide him into my top 2-3 WRs each and every week.
• So long as the trend continues, it continues to be worth mentioning Julio Jones' crazy home/road splits. He's averaging just 35.8 receiving yards for his career in nine home games, and jumps to 101.3 receiving yards in his 10 road games. He's outscored Roddy White in his past five road games, including all three this season. Who knows, maybe Matt Ryan, White and Jones got together and decided on this system as an equitable way to distribute the fantasy wealth. Of course, I'm kidding, but nonetheless I've gotten on board this week, ranking Jones ahead of White since Atlanta travels to Philly. We'll see …
• Consider Brandon Stokley a nice Hail Mary option this week. After all, Peyton Manning gets to pick on the Saints this week, and at this point I think we all know what that means. Stokley enters the Week 8 waiver period available in 87 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He's scored a TD in three of his past four games, and has caught 14 of the 15 passes thrown his way in that span. Even with limited targets, he's got a good chance to make a serviceable impact this week.
• I keep hearing that Randall Cobb is going to fade back into the woodwork when Greg Jennings returns. I'm not so sure. Cobb leads all receivers in percentage of targets caught (86%). He's had 66 receiving yards in five of his seven games, and has averaged 91 receiving yards over his past three games. And on Sunday, he took his third carry of the season 19 yards, which was the shortest run of the year — the other two went for 20 and 28 yards. And Cobb spends most of his time in the slot. If I were a James Jones owner, I'd fear Jennings' return more than a Cobb owner should.
• You might think I'm crazy ranking Vincent Jackson No. 17 at WR this week coming off his monster 7/216/1 performance against the Saints. But V-Jax is dealing with a sore calf, and the matchup isn't nearly as kind this week. Minnesota gets after the QB — one of only five teams averaging more than 3.0 sacks per game — and that's a big reason why it has allowed just 1 pass play of 40-plus yards. And, as I mentioned earlier, Antoine Winfield has been a stud corner — the opposition's No. 1 WR has yet to top 75 yards against the Vikings this season. V-Jax has long been labeled (most often by me, admittedly) a roller coaster ride. This is one of those week's where a post-peak dip is very possible.
Least FPPG allowed (TE): IND; ARI; JAX; NYG; NO
• Look for Brent Celek to turn the beat around this week. He's had less than 7.0 fantasy points in all but one game this season. But the Falcons have been extremely generous to the tight end position of late, allowing an average of 68 receiving yards to the trio of Greg Olsen, Fred Davis and Brandon Myers over the past three games.
• Heath Miller has played one less game than Rob Gronkowski, but still leads the TE position in Red Zone targets by a 13/9 margin over Gronk. This week, Miller goes beyond must-start territory. Against a Washington defense that allows the 2nd-most FAN PPG to TEs, Miller can be argued as the No. 1 TE this week, though I have him a little lower than that.
• Clearly, Mark Sanchez has enjoyed the return of health of a familiar face in Dustin Keller. Last week, Keller went 7/93/1 against the Patriots to finish with the 2nd-best fantasy tally by a TE in Week 7. Miami, his Week 8 opponent, has been middle of the pack against TEs, thus far. But that's due to the fact that it hasn't allowed a TE score. In terms of receiving yards allowed to the TE, Miami has issued the 5th-most in the league. And Keller has a long history of success against the Dolphins, averaging 51 yards and scoring 4 TDs in his past six meetings.
• I had to drop Vernon Davis down a ways this week. He's been complaining about how defenses have been cutting off his routes and, in general, making life miserable. He didn't have a catch against Seattle in Week 7, and he's been held scoreless in four straight games — he finished with less than 40 yards in three of those games. Now he faces an Arizona defense that has been the 2nd-toughest in fantasy against TEs. Last week the Cardinals held Kyle Rudolph without a catch.
Least FPPG allowed (DST): NYG; NE; TB; WAS; HOU
WEEK 8 GAME PREDICTIONS
Minnesota 24, Tampa Bay 16