Week 8 is the first of two straight Sundays with six teams on bye weeks. This week, Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Houston, Baltimore and San Diego all sit. Combine that with the rash of injuries that hit the league a week ago, and many fantasy owners are operating with less than a full deck this week.
Do not fret if you have to take a shot with a relative unknown at running back or wide receiver. We have some options for you within this column that could help you survive this week and come out with a victory, and we'll focus on that class of players as we work our way to kickoff.
We'll be updating here Sunday morning with important news as it breaks. Meanwhile, Alessandro Miglio and Eric Edholm will be taking your start/sit questions in The MMQB's live chat from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.
10:55 a.m. Reggie Bush gave his owners a scare this week because of a leg injury, but they've received good news this morning. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Bush will start today. You definitely want him in your lineup today.
11:20 a.m. -- Big news coming from the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray has been ruled out for today's game with the Lions. That means all you Joseph Randle owners will want to get him active. Detroit allows the 12th most fantasy points per game to running backs.
11:45 a.m. -- In a bit of a surprise, Jimmy Graham is active. It will be a risk to play him given that he's almost certainly not operating at 100 percent. I wouldn't reach down too far to find a replacement. For example, now that he's playing I wouldn't start Green Bay's Andrew Quarless over him. However, if you have a comparable option, you might want to look elsewhere.
12:10 p.m. -- Danny Amendola is up and active this week, marking the first time this season Tom Brady has had both him and Rob Gronkowski at his disposal. Miami has the third-best pass rush in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, but Brady could be in line for his best game of the season. As for Amendola, I have him as a WR3 this week, ranking him in the high 20s at the position.
12:33 p.m. -- I received a lot of questions about Fred Jackson this morning. To answer all of those in one fell swoop, I'd be starting him if I owned him anywhere. The New Orleans run defense is in the middle of the pack according to Pro Football Focus, and he'll basically be all alone in the backfield with C.J. Spiller inactive. Tashard Choice will have a role in the offense today, but Jackson will be a bellcow. Make sure he's in your lineup.
12:52 p.m. -- Here's our final pre-kick update. If you still need some help at receiver, consider Lance Moore. He's due back this week, and with Jimmy Graham hobbled, he could be in for a larger role. Drew Brees talked him up in practice this week, which certainly could be a good sign.
Enjoy the games, everyone.
Steven Jackson set to return
Jackson looks ready to see his first game action since early in the Falcons' Week 2 win over the Rams. He practiced all week and is listed as probable heading into Sunday's game with the Cardinals after missing four games with a hamstring injury. Whether or not you play him depends on a few factors, some general to the fantasy community and some specific to your roster.
Let's start with those general factors. This is a very tough matchup. The Cardinals have allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points per game to running backs and surrender just 3.6 yards per carry. They completely shut down Reggie Bush, holding him to 69 total yards. Frank Gore ran for 101 yards against them two weeks ago, but he needed 25 carries to get there. The good news for Jackson owners is that the one running back who has enjoyed big success against Arizona is one with an analogous style. Just last week, Marshawn Lynch racked up 91 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. You might assume that Seattle's offensive line is far superior to Atlanta's, but Pro Football Focus ranks Seattle as the sixth-worst run-blocking unit in the league. Jackson can have success here, so long as he gets the touches.
I'm not rushing Jackson back into my lineup. I have him just outside the top 20 this week. However, with Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Ray Rice, Arian Foster and Trent Richardson all on bye this week, we're without a number of starting running backs. If you find yourself shorthanded, you should not hesitate to get Jackson active.
Jimmy Graham makes us sweat until game time
Graham returned to practice on Friday, albeit in a limited fashion as he remains hobbled by a foot injury suffered two weeks ago. He's listed as questionable, but pay little attention to that official designation. This will be a game-time decision for Sean Payton and Co.
It will be awfully hard to bench Graham if the Saints decide to make him active. Luckily, the Saints and Bills kick at 1 p.m. ET, making this a little easier on fantasy owners. You'll have to have a backup ready in case Graham cannot go. Unfortunately, there are not a ton of widely available tight ends for you to scoop up if you do not already have a second option on your roster. One obvious choice would be Graham's backup, Benjamin Watson. While he would be starting in a high-powered offense, it's not like he'd just step in and be able to do everything Graham can do. The Saints would doubtlessly have to alter the game plan, and I think it's the New Orleans receivers who would stand to gain from Graham's absence. Instead, allow me to present another guy for whom a door has been opened by injury.
Andrew Quarless will start for the Packers in place of the injured Jermichael Finley on Sunday night. The Vikings have a dreadful pass defense and have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. It's not a perfect solution, but what is when one of your best players goes down with an injury? Grab Quarless now and ride with him if Graham sits.
Targets galore for Kris Durham in Detroit
There is a pretty decent chance you're without a receiver or two this week. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Torrey Smith and Andre Johnson are all on their bye weeks. Those of you who lost Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL last week haven't had much time to react, either. Sometimes the best thing to do is to adapt the famed Woodward and Bernstein strategy to fantasy football and follow the targets. Those will lead you to a still-unknown receiver in Detroit.
Since entering the starting lineup in Week 5, Durham has 29 targets in three games. He has caught 16 of those for 154 yards and a touchdown. Neither his presence in Detroit nor his recent prominence in the offense is a mistake. Durham and Matthew Stafford were teammates at Georgia for three years, and clearly they have a connection remaining from their days together in Athens. In what could become a shootout between the Lions and Cowboys, Durham deserves your attention. The Cowboys haven't been terribly generous to receivers this year, but they have surrendered 23.3 fantasy points per game to the position, 14th most in the league.
Peyton Hillis ready to party like his pre-Madden days
Brandon Jacobs is once again doubtful, meaning Peyton Hillis will likely make his second straight start for the Giants. This is the part of the column where Giants fans set their computers on fire. Anyway, while Giants fans are understandably sad about the turn their season has taken, Hillis owners should feel great about getting him active this week.
First and foremost, he should push up near 20 touches. That should get him to 80 to 85 total yards. The Eagles haven't exactly been victimized by running backs, but they have allowed capable pass-catching backs to perform well as receivers. Jamaal Charles caught seven passes for 80 yards against them, Doug Martin had four for 24, and Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman combined for three for 34. Now, I'm not suggesting Hillis is anywhere close to even being within earshot of spitting distance of any of those guys, but the point remains that an adept pass-catching back, like Hillis, can pad his numbers with receptions against the Eagles. If he finds the end zone, he'll be a top-15 back this week.
Selling Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in Week 8
Neither Gordon nor Cameron needs an added degree of difficulty in Sunday's game in Kansas City. The Chiefs have been an absolute terror on defense all season long, especially against the pass. They've allowed just 6.4 yards per attempt and six passing touchdowns. Just two teams, the Browns and Seahawks, have a lower YPA against, and only the Steelers, who have played one fewer game, have surrendered fewer passing touchdowns. The Chiefs' 35 sacks are 10 more than the second-place Ravens.
The numbers are equally as impressive in a fantasy context. No team has been tougher on tight ends. The Chiefs have allowed opposing tight ends just 2.9 fantasy points per game. While they aren't nearly as stingy against receivers, they have given up the 11th fewest fantasy points per game to the position. No matter how you look at it, the Chiefs are a terrible matchup for any passing game.
And now, allow me to present that alluded-to extra degree of difficulty for Gordon and Cameron. Jason Campbell will make his first start of the year on Sunday. In Arrowhead Stadium. Simply put, this is a nightmare for the Browns, as well as owners of Gordon and Cameron. If you own either of them, especially Cameron, you're probably starting him. However, if you have a comparable option, I'd probably go in that direction. It's going to be an ugly day for the Browns.
Temper your expectations for Andre Ellington
Rashard Mendenhall is listed as doubtful with a toe injury. That means Ellington will finally take what most would call his rightful spot as the starter in Arizona. Before you get too excited, however, a word of caution.
Coach Bruce Arians has said he's wary of leaning too heavily on the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington. Even if he does start, Stepfan Taylor will spell him and Alfonso Smith will play on third downs. Ellington played at least 42 percent of Arizona's snaps in four of the last five games according to Pro Football Focus, but he hasn't had more than 12 touches in any of those games. You can expect that streak to end this week, but he's not going to get upwards of 20 touches, either. At 15 touches, which is where I expect him to land, he's an RB3 or solid flex play.
Injury lightning round
C.J. Spiller is doubtful with his ankle injury. Don't count on him suiting up against the Saints. If you're a Fred Jackson owner, start him with confidence.
The Broncos have already announced that Ronnie Hillman will be deactivated, though not due to injury. Montee Ball should see a larger role in a game that could see 80-plus points scored. If you need a deep flex option, you could do worse.
Michael Vick is good to go after missing two games with a hamstring injury. If you own him, start him. He's my No. 6 quarterback this week.
Danny Amendola (concussion) practiced all week, but he'll be a game-time decision. The Patriots kick off early, so you won't have to roll the dice with him.
Dwayne Bowe (groin) sat out practice Friday after being a limited participant Thursday. He's banged up, has been terrible from a fantasy standpoint this year, and figures to get a healthy dose of Joe Haden on Sunday. Bench him.
James Jones is doubtful because of a knee injury. Don't bet on him playing Sunday night. I'm starting Jarrett Boykin everywhere I own him. He's a top-15 play at the position this week.
Julian Edelman is listed as questionable due to a thigh injury, but I'm not bullish on him even if he goes. Rob Gronkowski is options one, two and three in this offense, and four would be Amendola if he can play.
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