NFL Skinny: Week 8 preview

I was 10-3 in game predictions for Week 7, with my worst miss being a predicted Chicago victory at Cincinnati. Still, after a 7-7 Week 6, I'm much happier to deal with one black eye as opposed to the complete battering I absorbed two weeks ago. I keep a tally of my season picks because some of you have asked for it. My record now stands at 54-17 for the past five weeks (didn't start game picks until Week 3). Alright, with the accounting out of the way, let's focus on the weekend ahead.

Week 8 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 8 matchup

Key Stats: BRONCOS – 3.3 YPC allowed | 183 YPG passing allowed
RAVENS – 3.5 YPC allowed | 242 YPG passing allowed

What to watch for: Frankly, the timing for having to travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens couldn't be worse for Denver. BAL, coming off three straight losses of six points or less against teams with a combined record of 16-5, will not only be in an extra surly mood, but it will also benefit from a bye in Week 7. The Broncos bring with them the league's 5th-heaviest rushing attack (30.8 carries per game). But DEN is coming back down to earth in the rushing game a bit after a strong start – backfield fantasy production is 33% worse than the league average their past two games – and it hasn't yet been able to overpower a stout run defense (like BAL). I'm not expecting much from the RB combo of Knowshon Moreno(notes) and Correll Buckhalter(notes), but I have a feeling that Buckhalter, with his physical, tenacious style, is a better fit (and fantasy play) in this one. The Ravens should respect the running game, at least, and that should allow QB Kyle Orton(notes) some opportunities through the air. He's gained the trust of head coach Josh McDaniel by throwing just 1 INT (his only TO) through six games. DEN is one of the better teams in the league at protecting its QB, and BAL has been disappointing for its lack of sacking the QB, so you can expect Orton to have time to throw. Big, physical wideouts (Sidney Rice(notes), Vincent Jackson(notes), Dwayne Bowe(notes)) have enjoyed success against BAL this season, and that casts a nice (read: green) light on WR Brandon Marshall(notes). Orton has said that he has the best rapport with WR Eddie Royal(notes) among his receivers, but after targeting him 15 times in Week 5, he got just 4 looks in Week 6, the third time in six games he's had 4 targets or less. I wouldn't bank on any other WR outside of Marshall, but TE Tony Scheffler(notes) (coming off a 100-yard performance before the bye) is mildly enticing against a BAL defense that has allowed a TD and/or 50+ yards to a TE in four of six games.

No RB has done better against DEN than what Cedric Benson(notes) did to the Broncos in Week 1 (76 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards, TD). In other words, there hasn't been much for RBs to shout about against DEN. That said, four of the six teams that DEN has faced rank in the bottom half of the league in YPC on offense. BAL should be able to at least hold serve on the ground, and versatile RB Ray Rice(notes), who has taken hold of the backfield featured role, could make life difficult for a DEN defense that has allowed the 3rd-most receptions and 4th-most receiving yards to RBs – Rice leads all backs in both categories. DEN is the 2nd-toughest team in the league for QBs to score points against in fantasy, and it has faced some credible competition in that regards (Carson Palmer(notes), Tony Romo(notes), Tom Brady(notes), Philip Rivers(notes)). I think QB Joe Flacco(notes) has become a defensible fantasy start in any situation, but I'd be surprised if this turns out to be a better-than-average '09 performance for him. Among WRs, Derrick Mason(notes) is a reasonable play (color him chartreuse – somewhere between a green and yellow light), but I'd steer clear of Mark Clayton(notes), who typically makes his money with big plays – DEN has allowed the 4th-fewest pass plays of 20+ yards (13). As for TE Todd Heap(notes), he's been over 40 yards in all but one game, but DEN is among the best in the league at limiting TE fantasy points. He may get his 40 yards, but I wouldn't bank on much more than that.

Ray Rice, Brandon Marshall, Kyle Orton
Derrick Mason, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Baltimore Defense, Knowshon Moreno, Eddie Royal
Mark Clayton, Willis McGahee(notes), Denver Defense, Jabar Gaffney(notes), Brandon Stokley(notes)
Sleeper: Correll Buckhalter, Tony Scheffler
Injuries: DEN S Brian Dawkins(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable; BAL CB Samari Rolle(notes) (neck)is likely out; BAL OT Jared Gaither(notes) (neck) could be questionable;
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Denver 19
Key Stats: TEXANS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 228 YPG passing allowed
BILLS – 5.2 YPC allowed | 190 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: HOU may actually have a chance to run the ball this Sunday. While HOU is averaging an NFL-worst 3.0 YPC on offense, BUF is allowing the worst YPC mark (5.2) on the defensive side. BUF also allows a lot of production to the RB position in the passing game – 7th-most receiving yards. This matchup sets up very nicely for RB Steve Slaton(notes), who has the most fantasy receiving production in the league among RBs. QB Matt Schaub(notes) leads the league in passing yards (2,074) and passing TDs (16) – you're not sitting him simply because BUF has allowed the 5th-fewest fantasy points to QBs. The jury is still out on the Bills pass defense as it has had the luxury of facing Chad Henne(notes), Derek Anderson(notes), Mark Sanchez(notes) and Jake Delhomme(notes) the past four weeks, not to mention a Drew Brees(notes) on cruise control (season-low 29 pass attempts) in Week 3. Schaub has a history of not being the best pigskin caretaker, and he might give one or two away against a BUF team leading the league with 13 INTs, but I'd still expect him to throw for north of 250 yards and 2 TDs. The biggest question for Schaub will be whether he has the services of star WR Andre Johnson(notes), who has a lung contusion and is likely to be questionable for this one. I'm no doctor, but I'd wager that he'll play. And if he plays, you play him. I expected WR Kevin Walter(notes) to break out of his slump last week, but it didn't happen. Walter has caught a very respectable 18 of 23 passes thrown his way this season, he's just not getting much of Schaub's attention. Schaub has fallen in love with TE Owen Daniels(notes) – no TE has been more targeted (28) in the past three weeks. and Schaub has good reason. Daniels is an excellent athlete for the position, and he's unbenchable, especially against a BUF defense allowing the 7th-most FAN PPG to the TE position.

HOU does allow 4.7 YPC, but it has showed some backbone in recent weeks, holding backfields to 49% less fantasy production than the league average over the past three weeks – that includes Cedric Benson and Frank Gore(notes). BUF is generating just 3.9 YPC on offense and lead bison Marshawn Lynch(notes) is getting just 2.9 yards per clip. That RB Fred Jackson(notes) looked like the better back in this offense when he was running unopposed early in the season is a moot point right now. BUF has won two straight road games and it is unlikely to mess with success. Expect Lynch to continue to get the majority of work in the backfield, and his TD potential against a HOU defense allowing nearly 23 points per game makes him a green light this week, if only just barely. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) will fill in once again for the injured Trent Edwards(notes) against a HOU defense that has allowed the 7th-most receiving yards to WRs. WR Lee Evans(notes) has worked much better with Fitzpatrick than WR Terrell Owens(notes), who has caught just 6 of 15 passes intended for him (for an average of 20 yards) the past two weeks. Evans has scored in the past two and I'd roll with him against a HOU defense that has allowed a healthy 21 pass plays of 20+ yards. TO, based on season-long production, has to be labeled a sketchy play, but I could see him pulling out a modest 50 yards or so in this one.

Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans, Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels
Terrell Owens, Kevin Walter, Fred Jackson, Buffalo Defense, Houston Defense
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Fine(notes)
Sleeper: Jacoby Jones(notes)
Injuries: HOU WR Andre Johnson (lung) could be questionable; BUF DT Kyle Williams (knee) could be questionable; BUF QB Trent Edwards (concussion) is out
Prediction: Houston 26, Buffalo 16
Key Stats: BROWNS – 4.9 YPC allowed | 244 YPG passing allowed
BEARS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 220 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: CLE averages just 10.3 PPG, 3rd-lowest in the league. There's no such thing as a fantasy green light in this offense, no matter what the situation. CHI has allowed the 11th-most FAN PPG to RBs, and was just thoroughly worked over by former Bear Cedric Benson last week, so there's a glimmer of hope for RB Jamal Lewis(notes). But CHI has been tough at home, and there's simply no reason at all for the Bears to not stack the box. QB Derek Anderson inexplicably will get the start once again. There's no way you're starting him unless you simply have no other NFL starting quarterbacks at your disposal. CHI has allowed four 100-yard games to WRs this season, so the matchup doesn't look too bad for rookie WR Mohammed Massaquoi, but Anderson's throwing issues and Mohammed's issues holding onto the pigskin have led to just 15 receptions in 37 targets the past four weeks. He's way too hit-and-miss to be counted upon, but we've at least seen that the potential is there, so he's worth a yellow-light flyer.

Don't come down too hard on RB Matt Forte(notes) for his 6/24 line in Week 7 – CHI got pounced upon early and often by CIN and CHI had to abandon the thought of running. That shouldn't be the case this week, and we could see something akin to the 12/121/1 line Forte posted when CHI hosted DET in Week 4. CLE allows the 9th-most passing yards per game and is tied for the fewest INTs (3). Feel very good about QB Jay Cutler(notes), who has accounted for 5 TDs and has not turned the ball over in two home contests. As for Cutler's mixed bag trio at WR, Earl Bennett(notes) might actually reappear on the radar this week. CLE has struggled with possession-type wideouts all season, and are hurting even more across the middle with the loss of ILB D'Qwell Jackson(notes). Bennett isn't much of a red zone factor, but he could tally 6-8 catches this week. For what it's worth, WR Devin Hester(notes) has averaged just 35 yards and has not scored a TD in his past eight home games. That said, CLE has allowed the second-most pass plays of 20+ yards (26) and while down-field threats Hester and WR Johnny Know aren't likely to be heavily leaned on, both could come up with a big play or two. My gut tells me this is a controlled-passing game plan for Cutler, and it'll most benefit Forte, Bennett, and TE Greg Olsen(notes).

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett, Chicago Defense
Devin Hester, Johnny Knox(notes), Mohammed Massaquoi, Jamal Lewis
Derek Anderson, Brian Robiskie(notes), Chansi Stuckey(notes), Jerome Harrison(notes), Robert Royal(notes), Cleveland Defense
Sleeper: Joshua Cribbs(notes)
Prediction: Chicago 27, Cleveland 13
Key Stats: HAWKS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 220 YPG passing allowed
BOYS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 239 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The Week 7 bye was much needed for SEA. Several injured players should be back in the lineup for the Seahawks come Sunday, but unfortunately starting OTs Walter Jones(notes) and Sean Locklear(notes) will likely remain out. That won't help much for the running game or a passing game that was absolutely woeful in protecting QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes) vs. Arizona in the game leading up to the bye. Trying to keep DAL DE DeMarcus Ware(notes), who has 4 sacks in his past two games, at bay could be a major issue for SEA. Hasselbeck is going to have to work with a quick strike attack, which would favor WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes) over WR Nate Burleson(notes) – the opposing team's No. 1 WR has scored 11+ FAN PTS in 4 of the past 5 games against DAL. In addition, it's likely we'll see a bit more from backup RB Justin Forsett(notes), who is an excellent receiver – SEA should be looking at a lot of passing downs on Sunday. RB Julius Jones(notes) has been forgettable the past three games and, while he might bring a little extra to the table against his former team, he can't be counted upon given the state of the O-line – and he was only good for 37 YFS last season at DAL. TE John Carlson(notes) hasn't scored or topped 55 yards since Week 1. He's still a big-time talent, but one that you should feel cautious about in Week 8.

DAL leads the NFL in YPC (5.6), but it has a logjam in the backfield with Marion Barber(notes), Felix Jones(notes) and Tashard Choice(notes). SEA has been very strong against the run since SF RB Frank Gore went for more than 200 yards against them in Week 2. Like Gore, Barber's physicality could prove to be problematic for SEA and he's the only RB I'd feel really good about because he's the most likely to get 15+ carries and goal-line work. SEA has given up few big plays against the run – just 3 runs of 20+ yards allowed – which does not favor the game-breaking talents of Jones. If you believe, like I do, that DAL can build a big lead in this game, then you have to feel good about Choice as a sleeper – he's averaging 6.4 YPC in the second half this season. QB Tony Romo has found a shiny new toy in WR Miles Austin(notes) – the two have hooked up for a combined 16 receptions, 421 yards and 4 TDs in the past two games. Three of Austin's scores have been from 59+ yards. SEA, however, has allowed the 3rd-fewest pass plays of 20+ yards (12) and just one reception of 40+ yards. In fact, only IND allows fewer yards per catch than SEA (10.0). The team gives up a lot underneath (8th-most catches allowed). You obviously start Austin, as he's both a better possession receiver and deep-ball threat than WR Roy Williams, but he should have a much more modest effort this week than what we've seen of late. Last season, TE Jason Witten(notes) had his best game in Week 13 against SEA (9/115/1). You play that history card.

Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Dallas Defense, T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Felix Jones, Roy Williams, Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson, John Carlson, Seattle Defense
Julius Jones
Sleeper: Tashard Choice, Justin Forsett
Injuries: SEA LT Walter Jones (knee) is out; SEA RT Sean Locklear (ankle) could be questionable; SEA OG Rob Sims(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; SEA DE Patrick Kerney(notes) (groin) could be questionable; SEA LB Leroy Hill(notes) (groin) could be questionable; SEA CB Kelly Jennings(notes) (hip, ribs) could be questionable
Prediction: Dallas 30, Seattle 17
Key Stats: RAMS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 250 YPG passing allowed
LIONS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 259 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This article takes a long time to put together, so please excuse me if I simply scratch the surface in my analysis of the NFL's version of the Toilet Bowl. Both teams allow more than 30 PPG, so there's actually a chance for some offense in this game, even from the NFL-worst Rams offense. Both lead backs Steven Jackson and Kevin Smith(notes) are plays to feel good about. And, if Calvin Johnson(notes) can make his way back from a knee injury (it's a toss-up right now) and Donnie Avery(notes) can overcome a medley of ailments (hip, ribs, shoulder), I'd feel really good about both team's go-to WRs, too. If Johnson plays, I'm much more bullish on QB Matthew Stafford(notes), who should be back in the saddle following a knee injury, than QB Marc Bulger(notes) – in fact, if MegaTron plays, I'd be tempted to green light Stafford (for now, I'll run him under the caution flag). If I had to nab a sleeper from each side, I'd go with DET TE Brandon Pettigrew(notes) – STL has given up healthy production to the TE week in, week out – and STL WR Danny Amendola(notes), another Texas Tech route-running specialist, who is gaining steam of late and could see more time than ever before if Avery can't go or is limited.
Steven Jackson, Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson, Donnie Avery
Matthew Stafford, Marc Bulger, Bryant Johnson(notes), Detroit Defense, St. Louis Defense
Keenan Burton(notes), Randy McMichael(notes)
Sleeper: Danny Amendola, Brandon Pettigrew
Injuries: STL CB Bradley Fletcher(notes) (ACL) is out; STL OG Richie Incognito(notes) (foot) is out
Prediction: Detroit 21, St. Louis 20
Key Stats: VIKES – 4.0 YPC allowed | 235 YPG passing allowed
PACK – 3.5 YPC allowed | 174 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: We were treated to an instant classic when these two teams faced off in Week 4, with MIN pulling out the 30-23 victory. In that contest, QB Brett Favre(notes) was nearly perfect against his former team (24-for-31, 271 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). That's particularly impressive when you consider that GB allows the 4th-lowest QB rating in the league (64.7). There won't be a quiet moment when Favre is on the field at Lambeau, and my guess is that MIN will try especially hard to take a worked up GB crowd out of the game with a heavy diet of RB Adrian Peterson (who rushed a season-high 25 times against GB in Week 4). "All Day" was limited to just 55 rushing yards in the last meeting but … whatever, you're not sitting him. I thought WR Sidney Rice would be limited by big PIT CB Ike Taylor(notes) in Week 7, and I was absolutely wrong. I underestimated just how deep the love is between Favre and Rice. For the past five weeks, Rice ranks among the top 5 fantasy wideouts. He had 70 yards and a TD in the last meeting. WR Bernard Berrian(notes) had 75 yards and a TD in that game, but the affection shown Rice is taking its toll on Berrian of late – a combined 8 catches, 75 yards and a TD in the past three games. WR Percy Harvin(notes) is getting healthy again and he was targeted 10 times last week. With Berrian dealing with a sore hamstring suffered in Week 7, Harvin is especially appealing this week as you can count on him being heavily involved, and probably in a variety of ways.

QB Aaron Rodgers(notes) had, arguably, his most impressive performance of the season in the Week 4 matchup against MIN (384 yards, 2 TDs). He's No. 3 among QBs in FAN PPG and you can't even think about sitting him, especially with MIN CB Antoine Winfield(notes) out with a foot injury. For whatever reason, MIN tends to bring out the best in RB Ryan Grant(notes), who has averaged 5.3 YPC in his career against the Vikes and is coming off his best performance of the year (148 rushing yards, TD at Cleveland). TE Jermichael Finley(notes) was the biggest recipient of Rodgers' attention in Week 4 at MIN, catching 6 passes for 128 yards and a TD as GB looked to mitigate the MIN pass rush (Rodgers was sacked 8 times). With Finley out with a knee injury this time around, you can't expect TE Donald Lee(notes) to fill those shoes in the same dynamic way. If GB can buy Rodgers time, WRs Donald Driver(notes) and Greg Jennings(notes) are solid plays. And, with Jordy Nelson(notes) expected to skip Week 8 with a knee sprain, No. 3 WR James Jones(notes) is a very nice sleeper play. MIN has allowed solid production to No. 3 WRs, including Week 4 against GB when Nelson had a TD to go with 47 receiving yards.

Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Green Bay Defense, Minnesota Defense
Brett Favre, Visanthe Shiancoe(notes)
Donald Lee, Bernard Berrian
Sleeper: James Jones, Chester Taylor(notes)
Injuries: GB TE Jermichael Finley (sprained knee) is likely out; GB LB Clay Matthews(notes) (head) could be questionable; MIN WR Bernard Berrian (hamstring) could be questionable; MIN CB Antoine Winfield (foot) is out
Prediction: Green Bay 27, Minnesota 24
Key Stats: 49ERS – 3.3 YPC allowed | 236 YPG passing allowed
COLTS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 180 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: QB Alex Smith was the feel-good story of Week 7, infusing life in the 49ers' pass attack with 206 yards and 3 TD passes (all to TE Vernon Davis(notes)) after halftime against HOU. Unfortunately, the encore doesn't look like a crowd-pleaser, as Smith gets a much tougher matchup on Sunday at IND. The Colts have allowed opposing QBs a total of just 8 TD passes in the past 23 regular-season games. Admittedly, IND hasn't faced a QB of consequence outside of the Cardinals' Kurt Warner(notes), but you still can't get worked up for Smith in this one. Sure, pick him up for your fantasy squad, but sit him on the bench this week. The threat of a passing game – IND will absolutely have to be prepared for the middle seam route from Davis and will also have to think about rookie WR Michael Crabtree(notes), who made some nice plays and showed very strong hands in his Week 7 debut – should help RB Frank Gore. SF never seems to give up on the run and even last week when the team trailed 21-0 at halftime and was getting next to nothing on the ground, Gore still received eight second-half carries. IND allows 4.3 YPC, and I think Gore, with the expectations of 15-20 carries should turn out at least a passable performance. It should be noted that Gore did his best fantasy work as a receiver out of the backfield in '06 (61 catches, 485 yards), Smith's last full season at the helm of the offense. You can't bench Davis right now, but I'd keep the rest of the SF receiving corps under wraps this week, even the promising Crabtree.

Brand name QBs have been more than fine against SF this season. In matchups with the Niners, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Matt Ryan(notes) and Matt Schaub have averaged 296 passing yards and have combined for 7 passing TDs and one rushing score this season. That's the long way of making the obvious point that QB Peyton Manning(notes) should be started. Rookie RB Donald Brown(notes) suffered a shoulder injury in Week 7 that leaves his participation for this Sunday in serious question. My feeling is he will at least be more limited than usual, which should mean more work for starter Joseph Addai(notes). With TDs in five of six games and the 6th-most red zone touches (23) among RBs, Addai is a strong option against a SF defense that has allowed 49% more fantasy production to opposing backfields the past two games than the league average and is very banged up at the moment. Like Addai, WR Reggie Wayne(notes) has scored in five of six contests. He emerged from Week 7 with a sore groin but it appears he'll be able to play. The concern would be if IND opens up a big lead and decides to rest Wayne in the second half. TEs Tony Gonzalez(notes) and Owen Daniels have torn the SF defense to shreds the past two games, and Dallas Clark(notes) should bring more of the same. Injured WR Anthony Gonzalez(notes) is expected to practice some this week, but he's not expected to play. WR Austin Collie(notes) (another chartreuse play) has four TDs in the past three games while WR Pierre Garcon(notes) has been a non-factor in that span. Sideline-inclined receivers like Garcon haven't fared particularly well against SF, and I'd sit Garcon with the expectations that it will be another quiet week.

Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Indianapolis Defense
Austin Collie
Pierre Garcon, Donald Brown, Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan(notes), Isaac Bruce(notes), San Francisco Defense
Sleeper: Chad Simpson(notes)
Injuries: IND RB Donald Brown (shoulder) could be questionable; IND WR Anthony Gonzalez (knee) is likely out; IND WR Reggie Wayne (groin) could be questionable; SF OT Tony Pashos(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; SF DE Justin Smith(notes) (calf) could be questionable; SF NT Aubrayo Franklin(notes) (knee) could be questionable; SF ILB Takeo Spikes(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; SF LB Marques Harris(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable; SF S Michael Lewis (concussion) could be questionable
Prediction: Indianapolis 28, San Francisco 17
Key Stats: FINS – 3.7 YPC allowed | 234 YPG passing allowed
JETS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 181 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This is another rematch affair, as MIA defeated the Jets at home 31-27 in Week 5. This matchup pits the two most run-heavy offenses in the league against each other – the only two teams averaging more than 35 carries a week. Both teams rushed the ball at least 30 times in the first meeting and attempted fewer than 30 passes. Given the set-up of inexperienced QBs (Chad Henne vs. Mark Sanchez), it's hard not to expect more of the same. These two backfield platoon set-ups are clicking on all cylinders right now, even against stiffer competition. I'd be fearful of benching any of the significant players (Ronnie Brown(notes), Ricky Williams(notes), Thomas Jones(notes) and Shonn Greene(notes), who takes over for the injured Leon Washington(notes)). I don't feel good about either passing game in this one. MIA does allow good production to TEs, but NYJ TE Dustin Keller(notes) was shutout entirely in the last meeting. If NYJ WR Jerricho Cotchery(notes) makes it back from a hamstring injury, he's worth a look. NYJ WR Braylon Edwards(notes) made his Jets debut in the Week 5 matchup and had a strong performance (64 yards, TD). But, again, this is going to be a high-volume rushing affair and you can't feel good about your WRs for a team that has a QB in Sanchez averaging just 25 passes per game.
Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene
Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, New York Defense, Miami Defense
Dustin Keller, Mark Sanchez, Chad Henne, Ted Ginn Jr.(notes), Davone Bess(notes), Anthony Fasano(notes)
Sleeper: David Clowney(notes)
Injuries: NYJ RB Leon Washington (leg) is out; NYJ DE Shaun Ellis(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; NYJ DT Kris Jenkins(notes) (ACL) is out; MIA CB Will Allen (knee) is out;
Prediction: New York 27, Miami 20
Key Stats: JAGS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 262 YPG passing allowed
TITANS – 3.4 YPC allowed | 311 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: JAC spanked TEN 37-17 in Week 4. In that contest, QB David Garrard(notes) threw for 323 yards and 2 TDs. It was a nice performance, but merely average production for QBs facing TEN this season – the Titans allow a NFL-high 311 passing yards per game. It's hard to say if TEN will come out of the bye week with a renewed vigor given its 0-6 record and the thrashing it took from NE (59-0) in the game leading into the break, but I'm hedging that it will. TEN should get the return of a couple key components in its secondary this week and that will help. Garrard is averaging just 174 passing yards and has not thrown a TD pass in three road games this season. His matchup looks great on paper, but I think it could prove to be a trip-up game this week. RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) had just 40 YFS in the previous meeting with TEN, but he's about as good a bet for a TD as there is in the league (7 TDs in his past four games, including a score against TEN) and you can't really seriously consider benching him in a very tough RB matchup. WR Mike Sims-Walker(notes) has been nails as a starter, scoring 3 TDs and averaging 100 yards in four games. While Garrard could prove disappointing, there should be ripe production to be plucked for at least Sims-Walker. WR Torry Holt(notes) has averaged 98 receiving yards in his past two, but he has yet to score a TD and has just 1 red zone target this season. He had just 42 yards against the Titans in the last meeting and is no more than a cautionary play this week. TE Marcedes Lewis(notes) had his best game (4/76/1) of the season against TEN in Week 4, but he's averaged just 9 YPG in the two games since – another sketchy play.

TEN owner Bud Adams wants QB Vince Young(notes) to take over as the team's starter. He's the owner, so expect him to get his way. Young has 39 TOs (33 INTs) in 35 games and he was a receiver's nightmare back when he played regularly a couple years ago – he has thrown for more than 200 yards just eight times in his career. Of course, he's rushed for more than 40 yards 11 times, and has 10 career rushing TDs. Yes, the legs are an X-factor, but there's too much downside here for my tastes. Like MoJo, RB Chris Johnson is unbenchable (he had 94 YFS in the team's last meeting). I think I made it clear that the TEN WRs are a big red flag this week with Young at QB, but Young did always have a good rapport with TE Bo Scaife(notes) (they went to school together at Texas). Scaife is a roll-the-dice sleeper in deeper leagues.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker, Chris Johnson
David Garrard, Torry Holt, Marcedes Lewis, LenDale White(notes), Justin Gage(notes)
Nate Washington(notes), Kenny Britt(notes), Vince Young
Sleeper: Bo Scaife
Injuries: JAC CB Rashean Mathis(notes) (finger) could be questionable; TEN CB Courtland Finnegan (hamstring) could be questionable; TEN CB Vincent Fuller(notes) (forearm) could be questionable;
Prediction: Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 17
Key Stats: RAIDERS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 207 YPG passing allowed
BOLTS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 195 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The Raiders' main value in fantasy comes as a great source for quality defense streaming. QB JaMarcus Russell(notes), with 8 INTs, 5 fumbles and 18 sacks, is the gift that keeps on giving to opposing fantasy defenses. He got benched in Week 7, but head coach Tom Cable assured us that Russell would remain the starter going forward, so go get the Chargers defense if still available. As for the OAK skill position players, you know the drill. TE Zach Miller is the most reliable of the group, but he's contributed 33 yards or less in three of his past five games. However, he's never had a bad fantasy day against SD, so you probably want to roll with him this week if you don't have another slam dunk option. RB Darren McFadden(notes) could be back from a knee injury this Sunday, and he had 17 carries for 68 yards against SD in Week 1. But the emergence of RB Justin Fargas(notes) in the past two weeks only means that both backs could be marginalized by each other's presence this week and you can't feel real good about either of them.

My headstrong faith in RB LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) pretty much died last week when Tomlinson could manage just 73 YFS and 0 TDs on 25 touches against KC. LT was also stuffed on many occasions at the goal line. It's not that it's all a product of LT's diminishing skills, because SD simply can't run block like it used to, but I have to admit that LT is now much, much closer to ordinary than he is to being the back of a few years ago. And the effort to get backup RB Darren Sproles(notes) on the field means that LT has to take a backseat on passing downs – he has just 7 catches through four games after having caught at least 50 passes in each of the previous eight seasons. His 1 TD this season did come against OAK in Week 1, and he has 11 TDs against the Silver-and-Black in his past seven meetings. OAK has allowed the 2nd-most FAN PPG to RBs and you really have to feel good about both LT and Sproles in this one, despite the O-line issues. OAK has done a decent job of holding the opposition's passing game in check, but you don't ever really think about sitting QB Philip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson or TE Antonio Gates(notes) – all were at least serviceable in Week 1. WR Chris Chambers(notes) is the fantasy equivalent of garnish – he looks good, but there's not much sustenance to him.

Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Darren Sproles, San Diego Defense, Zach Miller
Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas
Chris Chambers, JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Receivers, Oakland Defense, Michael Bush(notes)
Injuries: OAK RB Darren McFadden (knee) could be questionable; OAK OLs Robert Gallery(notes) (leg) and Cornell Green(notes) (calf) are likely questionable; OAK WR Chaz Schilens(notes) (foot) could be questionable; SD LB Kevin Burnett(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; SD DE Travis Johnson(notes) (groin) could be questionable; SD DL Ogemdi Nwagbuo(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: San Diego 33, Oakland 14
Key Stats: PANTHERS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 150 YPG passing allowed
CARDS – 3.0 YPC allowed | 258 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: If QB Jake Delhomme isn't benched this week, I guess the obvious thing to watch for is interceptions. Delhomme has thrown a league-leading 14 picks and ARI is 7th in the league with 7 INTs. In an effort to keep things close, Delhomme (or A.J. Feeley(notes) or Matt Moore(notes)) is likely to have no choice but to put it up 35+ times. It's not an ideal situation for CAR, as ARI looks like a well-oiled machine right now and the reality is that CAR won't be able to rely completely on RBs DeAngelo Williams(notes) and Jonathan Stewart(notes) because ARI has been one of the best teams in the league against the run and it seems to be improving with each passing week. Williams has earned his must-start stripes, but I'd shy away from Stewart in this tough matchup. At WR, Steve Smith was back in business with a solid 99-yard effort against BUF in Week 7. He should be at least that good again on Sunday, assuming the QB has any time at all in the pocket to set up. The TE position isn't too depleted by the bye this week, but TE Dante Rosario(notes), assuming his dinged knee checks out fine, isn't the worst flyer if you are in dire need of a plug-n-play. CAR is getting good production from the position this season (6th-most) and ARI allows the 12th-most FAN PPG to the position.

ARI finally showed some teeth with the running game in Week 7. Rookie RB Beanie Wells(notes) ran 14 times for 67 yards at the NYG. Despite the strong effort, Wells will remain a backup to RB Tim Hightower(notes). It's a ripe matchup for ARI if it wanted to continue to flex some ground-game muscles, but the workload split for a team that really struggles to game plan north of 20 carries makes both backs cautionary tales for Sunday. CAR is the least thrown on team as it typically has been handled through the running game. Also contributing to that fact is that the good passing teams it faced early in the season were able to squat on solid second-half leads while the past three games it has faced teams that happen to be among the 13 worst passing offenses in the league. So the 150 passing YPG allowed by CAR, while impressive, is a bit of a misnomer. Owners should not shy away from QB Kurt Warner – averaging 45 pass attempts 307 passing yards in three home games – and the dynamic receiving duo because of the paper report.

DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Anquan Boldin(notes), Arizona Defense
Jonathan Stewart, Steve Breaston(notes), Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower
Jake Delhomme, Muhsin Muhammad(notes), Carolina Defense, Ben Patrick(notes)
Sleeper: Dante Rosario
Injuries: CAR FS Charles Godfrey(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; CAR TE Dante Rosario (knee) could be questionable; ARI CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes) (ankle) is likely to be questionable
Prediction: Arizona 28, Carolina 13
Key Stats: GIANTS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 158 YPG passing allowed
EAGLES – 3.6 YPC allowed | 179 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The NYG have been smacked on the mouth the past two games, losing to New Orleans and at home to Arizona. In both games, the Giants finished well below its season-average of 32 rush attempts per game. And, in both games, QB Eli Manning(notes) has seen strong pressure and made poor decisions – combined 48% completion rate, 5 TOs, 4 sacks. The key for the NYG will be to get the run established early, something it did not do against ARI. RB Brandon Jacobs(notes) showed his much-anticipated earthmover skills against ARI (13/76/1) but the game plan failed him. He should push 20 carries this week. History card enthusiasts should note he ran 22 times for 126 yards and 2 TDs at PHI last season. Backup RB Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) is coming off a forgettable 12/32 performance that included a crucial lost fumble. I think we'll see Jacobs get a clearer majority of the backfield carries this week, and PHI has done well against cat-quick backs like Bradshaw this year, so I'm inclined to run Bradshaw under the caution. Manning has a TD pass in all seven games this season, but he's only the 15th-ranked fantasy signal-caller for the past three weeks (FAN PPG). As mentioned, Manning's not nearly as dialed in as he was to open the season and this week he faces a PHI defense that is 2nd in the league in sacks (21) and 3rd in INTs (12). Expect a more conservative aerial approach this week, with go-to WR Steve Smith getting more short and intermediate range work than he's seen of late. PHI has been very good at limiting long pass plays (4th-fewest 20+ yard passes allowed) and I don't like WR Mario Manningham(notes) much this week for that and the other reasons listed here. Same holds true for rookie WR Hakeem Nicks(notes). But he's scored four straight weeks and how do you mess with a streak like that? Yes, his TD in Week 7 was a fluke, but it only goes to show that he is a lethal combination of talent and luck. I'll put him down as a yellow light, but I won't blame a Nicks owner for starting him. TE Kevin Boss(notes) went 6/69/1 at PHI last season and the Eagles have given up a ton of production to TEs, so consider him a nice bye-week filler.

The health of RB Brian Westbrook(notes) is the big question for PHI. He suffered a concussion in Week 7, but head coach Andy Reid is holding out hope that he can still play on Sunday. It's an iffy proposition, for sure. The Giants haven't been stout against the run this season, but given the tentative nature of Westbrook and the lackluster performances from rookie RB LeSean McCoy(notes) in recent weeks (25 carries, 64 yards in past three combined), PHI will likely look to air it out, as it prefers. NYG allows just 158 passing YPG, but that's a bit a product of the competition, having faced Jason Campbell(notes), Matt Cassel(notes), JaMarcus Russell and a combo of Josh Johnson(notes)/Byron Leftwich. In the past two games, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner have combined to complete 65% of their passes for an average of 300 passing yards and a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio. I'd feel comfortable starting QB Donovan McNabb(notes) this week. And WR DeSean Jackson(notes) showed again last week that he is way too dangerous to bench – if he's not the fastest player in the league, he's firmly in the discussion. Rookie WR Jeremy Maclin(notes) has still given us just one game to believe in (6/142/2 in Week 5) and if I had to gamble on a second receiving option in this one, it would definitely be TE Brent Celek(notes). The Giants have allowed the 14th-most FAN PPG to TEs, and Celek is averaging 89 receiving yards in three home efforts this season.

Brandon Jacobs, Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson, Donovan McNabb, Brent Celek
Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Defense, New York Defense
Mario Manningham
Sleeper: Kevin Boss
Injuries: NYG RT Kareem McKenzie(notes) (groin) could be questionable; PHI SS Victor Harris (ankle) could be questionable; PHI RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) is likely questionable
Prediction: Philadelphia 26, New York 24
Key Stats: FALCONS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 251 YPG passing allowed
SAINTS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: NO has scored 45+ points in four of six games. That bodes well for ATL RB Michael Turner(notes). It doesn't take a genius to know that you have to keep NO QB Drew Brees off the field. MIA did a good job of that in the first half of Week 7 against NO, rushing 22 times in building a 24-10 halftime lead. But second-half TOs and three-and-outs killed the Dolphins down the stretch. Last season, both matchups of these two teams were closely contested and both netted 54 points total. Turner averaged a line of 23/79/1 in those two games and that's not a bad projection for Sunday. QB Matt Ryan threw for 315 yards the last time he visited NO, but you should temper your expectations this time around. Ryan may not throw more than 30 times – he's averaging 31.8 pass attempts per game – and he's finished with less than 230 passing yards in five of six contests. But even though he likely won't throw much, that doesn't mean you bench TE Tony Gonzalez or WR Roddy White(notes). Both are sure-handed options and they're liable to be the only receivers Ryan even considers in this one.

Lost in the aerial show that is QB Drew Brees is that NO is one of six teams with 200+ rushing attempts. And NO should be able to have success on the ground this week against an ATL defense that has allowed 4.6 YPC. As much as owners of RB Pierre Thomas(notes) hate to hear it, RB Mike Bell(notes) might be the most valuable of the backfield contingent. The fact is, he gets the goal-line work and has carried at least a dozen times in all four games he has played. PT was a non-factor last week as NO had to scrap the running game early because of a big first-half deficit. I actually think both Bell and Thomas will get 12+ touches this week and I'd be fine with starting either one of them. Obviously Brees and WR Marques Colston(notes) don't have to wait in line and get the free pass to the active roster. And I'd be thinking pretty hard about moving WR Lance Moore(notes) into my lineup this week. He showed that his hamstring injury was behind him a couple weeks ago against the Giants (6/78/1) and if Brees has time in the pocket – ATL has just 12 sacks – he's likely to seek out one of his favorite targets once again. ATL also has allowed a healthy 24 pass plays of 20+ yards and lost starting CB Brian Williams(notes) a couple weeks back to an ACL injury. Expect either Devery Henderson(notes) or Robert Meachem(notes) to go for a long gainer in this one, although your guess is as good as mine as to which one it will be.

Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Michael Turner, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey(notes)
Matt Ryan, Reggie Bush(notes), New Orleans Defense
Michael Jenkins(notes), Atlanta Defense
Sleeper: Jason Snelling(notes), Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem
Injuries: NO LB Scott Fujita(notes) (calf) could be questionable; NO DT Sedrick Ellis(notes) (knee) could be questionable; NO FB Health Evans (leg) could be questionable;
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Atlanta 21