After a week filled with menacing byes, we return to a far less dream-crushing schedule in Week 8. Aaron Rodgers, the kingpin of our imaginary game based on real people, is the most notable absentee this week, along with his favorite receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley.
Byes for Matt Forte and Darren McFadden are painful too, although McFadden likely would have sat out this week with an injury anyway. But while we’ll miss Rodgers, two of fantasy’s most productive quarterbacks return with the conclusion of bye weeks in New England and Philadelphia.
1. Tom Brady @ PIT — With
Joe Montana Aaron Rodgers sitting out, the choice here is obvious. Don’t be worried about Pittsburgh’s secondary (ranked second in the league) possibly leading to numbers for Brady that fall somewhere below magnificent. He’s facing the same group that he thrashed for 350 passing yards and three touchdowns last year, and he did that at Heinz Field too.
2. Ben Roethlisberger vs. NE — Easy decisions are much better than hard decisions, and another easy candidate for lofty expectations is the man who has the pleasure of delivering bombs to Mike Wallace against a Pats secondary that’s improved in recent weeks, but is still being burned deep consistently. New England has allowed 37 completions of 20 yards or more.
3. Drew Brees vs. STL — Don’t fear the blowout, because as he thoroughly enjoyed his hot dog and was perhaps intoxicated by pain medication, Sean Payton kept asking Brees to throw last Sunday night even when the Saints were up by 26 points in the third quarter against Indy. When your leg has been shattered, you don’t care what other coaches think. No one fights the guy on crutches anyway.
4. Michael Vick vs. DAL — Jason Peters, the Eagles’ only reliable offensive lineman, will return this week, providing reason for a little more confidence in Vick’s ability to avoid being DeMarcus Ware’s lunch.
5. Eli Manning vs. MIA – Sure, the Dolphins are narrowly behind the small group of teams allowing less than 200 yards per game through the air, but look at the quarterbacks they’ve faced recently: Tim Tebow making his first start, Mark Sanchez and Philip Rivers (both struggling heavily), and Colt McCoy.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. WAS — The stability of Buffalo’s offensive line and Fitzpatrick’s ability to avoid the rush has been a tale of two trends. Over Buffalo’s first three games he was sacked just once, but in the next three he went down five times. Although rookie Ryan Kerrigan has slowed after his quick start, the Redskins are still tied for the league lead with 21 sacks.
7. Matt Schaub vs. JAC — If you’re scared by Jacksonville’s shutdown of Baltimore, you’ll likely also be petrified of a household toilet after two rare python sightings. The Jaguars’ defense has steadily improved this season, but the Ravens have been on par with your average all-star Pop Warner team offensively of late, and there’s a chance that Schaub gets some dude named Johnson back.
8. Tony Romo vs. PHI — It’ll be difficult to resist the temptation to ride the DeMarco Murray train after he set a franchise rushing record against the league’s worst rush defense, and now he’ll face another unit that’s setting very different franchise records while trying to stop the run. Romo only had 166 passing yards last week during Murray’s romp over St. Louis.
9. Cam Newton vs. MIN — Newton’s mobility neutralized Julius Peppers earlier this year, but he was sacked four times by Washington last week. That leaves us uncertain of what to expect against Jared Allen.
10. Philip Rivers @ KC — Yes, Eric Berry has been gone for a long time. But even with the change his absence has brought to Kansas City’s secondary, it’s hard to work up much excitement over a supposedly elite quarterback who looked lost last week, and averaged a very mediocre 226 passing yarsds against the Chiefs over two games last year.
Notable omission(s): Still finishing with 24 fantasy points after completing three passes midway through the third quarter is just so Tim Tebow. Denver’s lord and savior will likely raise his holy staff to somehow produce a fine outing for those who own either Rodgers or Matt Ryan, and are forced to use Tebow as a bye week fill-in.
But we’re not believers in radical dogma. Consider us football atheists, and without divine intervention Tebow’s grill will be filled with Ndamukong Suh. Matthew Stafford, the other quarterback in that game, was also left off the list because I’m being cautious about his playing status, and his effectiveness if he plays with an injury.
1. Adrian Peterson vs. CAR — There’s no reason to ever be worried about Peterson, but those prone to such madness were given cause for concern two weeks ago when he was held to just 39 rushing yards against the Bears. He then bounced back with 175 yards in Week 7 against the Packers’ top 10 rushing defense, and now he’s ready to roll over a team that’s allowing over 130 yards per game.
2. Fred Jackson vs. WAS — He’s been held to less than 110 yards only twice.
3. LeSean McCoy vs. DAL — You need to ignore that scary looking number atop the defensive rankings that says the Cowboys are giving up less than 70 yards each week and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. The Pats and 49ers are Dallas’ only opponents so far ranked higher than 20th in rushing.
4. Frank Gore vs. CLE — Sometimes this imaginary football game can be as simple as knowing that the elite producer who’s hot will stay hot. Gore has 541 rushing yards this year, and nearly 400 of them (393) have come over his last three games.
4. DeMarco Murray @ PHI — Is this a little too aggressive, and is there a reactionary element here? Sure, my knee does hurt a bit. But there’s also a highly logical element. No one matches the Rams in rush defense terribleness, but the Eagles come pretty close with their 4.8 yards per carry.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew @ HOU — If he can still string together 105 rushing yards against Baltimore, MJD should be fine against a defense that’s been vulnerable to the home run play and has coughed up three 40-plus yard runs, while 12 teams haven’t surrendered even one.
6. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. MIA — Hopefully offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride connects the dots after Bradshaw received his largest workload of the season two weeks ago (26 carries) and had his first 100-yard game of the season with three touchdowns. It’s a simple correlation really: running the ball against a team that isn’t very good at stopping players who run the ball will lead to a clock that winds down, and a favorable final score.
7. Arian Foster vs. JAC — Fantasy football is a game of reactions balanced by predictions, so here’s another reactionary pick. The focus may shift elsewhere with Johnson’s possible return, and Schaub is a sizable upgrade over Joe Flacco. Still, Paul Posloszny and Clint Session stone-walled Ray Rice Monday night, and it looked a lot like one of Houston’s games against Jacksonville last year when Foster was held to just 56 yards long before Posloszny arrived.
8. Ray Rice vs. ARI — Normally Rice would be a sure-fire top three player against a defense traveling across the country, especially when a handful of top tier RBs are on their bye (Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, Matt Forte). But he won’t have success against the Little Giants while receiving such minimal support from Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game.
10. Chris Johnson vs. IND — Others are jumping all over CJ2K this week, but I’ve been to that lonely breakout perch before, and it cost me a bath in hot sauce. Johnson should torch the Colts, and he should look like the C.J. of old, and he should use this as a springboard towards a resurgence. But we said all of that prior to Week 3 when he had just 21 yards on 13 carries against Denver.
Notable omission(s): The continued struggles of New England’s secondary will likely give Rashard Mendenhall an opportunity to pound a score or two in from the goal-line. But those struggles will also lead to a Pittsburgh offense that’s focused primarily on an aerial attack.
Ryan Mathews also narrowly missed the cut simply due to more preferable matchups elsewhere, but he’ll have a productive night Monday against Kansas City, just like he did when the two teams met in Week 3 and he had 98 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
1. Mike Wallace vs. NE — That stuff I wrote about Wallace and his connection with Roethlisberger against a weak Patriots secondary earlier applies here. In fact, it probably applies even more here.
2. Marques Colston vs. STL — In an offense that’s habitually spread the ball around Colston and Jimmy Graham have been dominating recently as the primary targets, combining for six touchdowns and 27 receptions over the past two weeks.
3. Calvin Johnson @ DEN — There’s no slowing Megatron, there’s only containment, and when containment is 115 receiving yards and 23 yards per catch (his Week 7 totals) you’re the proud owner of the safest player in fantasy football. However, Champ Bailey is about as close as it gets to an evil Decepticon for Megatron, and having Stafford either hobbled or injured is also troubling.
4. Hakeem Nicks vs. MIA — Vonte Davis isn’t overrated, and he’s not underrated. He’s just rated–or average–and that’s a sad place for a first-round pick two years into his career. Nicks eats pieces of average pick like Davis for breakfast.
5. Wes Welker @ PIT — In New England’s past two games–wins over Dallas and the Jets–Brady has been sacked seven times, and we’ve seen two different responses from Bill Belichick. Three weeks ago it was to relieve the pressure with a shift to the running game while still using Welker as the outlet, resulting in 136 rushing yards for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and still 124 receiving yards for Welker. But then Welker only had 45 yards against Dallas. Which hand is played Sunday against a Pittsburgh front seven that’s still daunting even with James Harrison out will determine Welker’s fantasy fate.
6. Steve Smith vs. MIN – With his career rejuvenated by Cam Newton, Smith’s had three games with at least 140 receiving yards (including two with over 170), and now he gets to fest on the 29th ranked Vikings secondary with a recovering Antonie Winfield.
7. DeSean Jackson vs. DAL — As always, it’s boom or bust, home run or sacrifice bunt with Jackson, and rolling with him confidently depends on the opposing defensive backs and their ability to neutralize his speed. That ability will be minimal this week for both Mike Jenkins and an aging Terrence Newman.
8. Vincent Jackson @ KC –At first it feels like a trip to Kansas City should cure Jackson’s cabin fever after a week trapped on Revis Island. Then we remember that Brandon Flowers has four interceptions, which is already one shy of his career single-season high.
9. Dez Bryant @ PHI — With the exception of Victor Cruz a few weeks ago, the star-studded Philly secondary has limited wideouts whose skillset is primarily based on sheer speed. But their pathetic run defense leads to red zone opportunities for large targets like Bryant.
10. Stevie Johnson vs. WAS — Washington’s offensive injuries (Tim Hightower, Santana Moss) combined with the inexperience of John Beck could lead to the Redskins losing the field position battle early. Toronto fans will then be treated to a game where clock-grinding is a priority. That will leave Johnson owners angry, and Canadians to fight boredom by chasing beaver.
Notable omission(s): Andre Johnson practiced fully Wednesday, and Gary Kubiak’s saying there’s a chance. He’ll probably play, and if Andre Johnson is on a football he’s always a threat to blow up. But at this point we need more than a chance to slot him in confidently.
Also, it remains remarkable that Larry Fitzgerald has posted at the very least serviceable numbers every week with the parade of misfit quarterbacks he’s had to deal with over the past two years, a group that now may also include Kevin Kolb. That ends this week, when Kolb won’t have the support of the running game with Beanie Wells out, leaving the Ravens to quintuple team Fitz.
1. Jimmy Graham vs. STL — Graham scored two touchdowns, but he simply wasn’t needed last week against Indy. No one was after halftime, and we’re pretty sure Payton’s hot dog was just the first course in an eight-piece gourmet meal. A deep fried waffle was served next.
2. Vernon Davis vs. CLE — Over their last three games Cleveland has given up 128 receiving yards and two touchdowns to tight ends.
3. Antonio Gates @ KC — Any lingering concerns about Gates’ injury were silenced quickly last week. Although he still lacked some of his usual burst, what’s important is that the Chargers didn’t feel the need to handle Gates with care. His five receptions equaled his weekly average throughout 2010.
4. Jason Witten @ PHI — The same logic that applied to Bryant applies here too. With Murray rolling over a feeble run defense, Witten–who had 24 fantasy points over two games against the Eagles last year–should receive plenty of red zone opportunities.
5. Jake Ballard vs. MIA — We’re up on all the fall trends here at GLS, especially ones that involve tight ends. Ballard has gradually eased into the Giants’ offense while replacing Kevin Boss, starting out slow with 87 receiving yards over his first three games, but over the next three he had 186.
6. Owen Daniels vs. JAC — Four games with over 65 receiving yards is the kind of consistent production you expect out of a healthy Daniels.
7. Rob Gronkowski @ PIT — Gronk’s numbers have taken a dip since a hot September start, and he didn’t get his cardio work in during New England’s bye week.
8. Brandon Pettigrew @ DEN — You always know what you’re getting from Pettigrew every week. He’s a target who’s a reliable safety value for Stafford down the middle, but due to the length and leaping ability of Johnson he’s often robbed of red zone opportunities
9. Fred Davis @ BUF — Chris Cooley is done for the year and has likely played his last game in Washington. Now it’s Davis’ job, and he’s already posting similar numbers to Daniels with four 80-plus yard games.
10. Jermaine Gresham @ SEA – The chemistry with Andy Dalton is still there despite the absence of gaudy numbers for Gresham. But there’s some uncertainty this week with the Cincy offense due to the absence of Cedric Benson–who’s sitting out because of a suspension–and the resulting impact on the Bengals’ passing game.
Notable omission(s): I like Jeremy Shockey, and a I like Greg Olsen. But it’s still impossible to predict who will be the primary target on any week, and both make for a risky play with Jared Allen chasing Newton around the backfield.
1. Jason Hansen @ DEN
2. Lawrence Tynes vs. MIA
3. Neil Rackers vs. JAC
4. Rian Lindell vs. WAS
5. Dan Bailey @ PHI
6. Stephen Gostkowski @ PIT
7. Nick Novak @ KC
8. John Kasey vs. STL
9. Shaun Suisham vs. NE
10. Alex Henery vs. DAL
1. New York Giants vs. MIA
2. Detroit Lions @ DEN
3. Cincinnati Bengals @ SEA
4. Baltimore Ravens vs. ARI
5. New Orleans Saints @ STL
6. Washington Redskins @ BUF
7. Tennessee Titans vs. IND
8. Denver Broncos vs. DET
9. San Francisco 49ers vs. CLE
10. Dallas Cowboys @ PHI