Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Do Anthony Dixon, Tre Mason belong in lineups Week 8?
In fantasy football, some players you start no matter which team they’re facing (from the Packers, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, always and forever), and some players you sit no matter what (pretty much all of the Raiders).
There’s always bound to be some turnover, though, and the most exciting kind of turnover comes in the form of new players. Thanks to declining performance and further carnage at the running back position, we have five new names to consider this week.
Fantasy owners have been pondering the rest-of-season values for Tre Mason, Denard Robinson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown and Travaris Cadet all week. The all have enough value that they should be owned in your league. That’s where the similarities end. Their respective values range from “potential weekly RB2” to “lottery ticket.” Which label belongs to which player, you ask? Find out in the Week 8 edition of the SI.com Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons
Note: This game is being played in London and starts at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday.
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Golden Tate, Lions DST
Stafford came through without Calvin Johnson last week, throwing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the win over the Saints. He’s likely to be without Johnson again, but that won’t matter as much against an Atlanta defense that is completely devoid of a pass rush. The Falcons also cannot stop the run, allowing the most fantasy points per game to running backs this year. Bell is a strong RB2 who could very well creep into RB1 territory after consecutive strong games, especially with Bush likely out due to an ankle injury. Take away Tate’s somewhat-fluky 73-yard touchdown last week, and he had nine catches for 81 yards. The fact remains that he should get 10-plus targets against a substandard defense. There may be no greater mismatch in the league right now than the Lions’ defensive line against the Falcons’ decimated offensive line.
Falcons: Julio Jones, Roddy White
Jones and White are the only Falcons who can be trusted as fantasy starters on a consistent basis. Despite the team’s injuries and overall struggles, Jones is fourth in the league in receiving yards and sixth in fantasy points among receivers. White has had an up-and-down season, but the ups have been great; he has three games this year with at least 13 points in standard-scoring leagues. The Lions’ front four could make Matt Ryan’s life awfully tough, and that would inevitably affect Jones and White. Still, that shouldn’t be enough to keep you from starting either receiver.
Lions: Reggie Bush (ankle), Calvin Johnson (ankle), Corey Fuller, Jeremy Ross, Eric Ebron
Johnson will make the trip to London, and all signs point to him being a game-time decision. He could sit one more game with the Lions bye coming next week, but you might have to schedule an early wake-up call to find out if he’s going or not. If he is able to play, you’ll want him active. We’ve seen him play the decoy role before, but it would seem a curious move by the Lions to bring him to London and activate him, just so he could play possum and risk further injury. Bush has missed practice all week and looks unlikely to play. Even if he does, it’s hard to trust him with a gimpy ankle, despite a great matchup.
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman, Antone Smith, Devin Hester, Harry Douglas (foot), Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
Ryan got off to a great start this season, but after losing his third lineman, and second center, fantasy owners cannot have any confidence in him against a defense like Detroit’s. His saving grace, as it has been in the past, could be volume. Only Andrew Luck has attempted more passes than Ryan this year. However, he threw 44 passes against a strong Baltimore defense last week, and all he had to show for it was 228 yards and a touchdown.
St. Louis Rams at Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
The Rams have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and third most to receivers this year. They’ve also focused their entire defense the last two weeks on stopping the run, and they could very well do the same against the Charles-led Chiefs, which is good news for Smith and Bowe. Don’t be surprised if and when these two go off on Sunday. Kelce remains a stat-head’s darling, leading all tight ends in yards per route run, but Andy Reid needs to look at him with the same adoring eyes for him to become a real fantasy weapon.
Rams: Tre Mason, Brian Quick
Mason took over as the starter for the Rams last week, and ran for 85 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. In two games against the 49ers and Seahawks, he has 137 total yards on 24 touches. That’s quite impressive from a rookie who didn’t get a touch in the first four games of the season. Benny Cunningham will still replace him on passing downs, but he can do plenty of damage against the Chiefs if he gets 15-to-18 touches. He’s a low-end RB2. As for Quick, don’t hold the last two weeks against him. He wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, receiver to struggle against the 49ers and Seahawks.
Chiefs: Knile Davis, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway
We’re just being thorough here. There isn’t a widely owned Chief, other than Davis, that you should bench this week. Davis is merely a handcuff to Charles. As long as the starter is healthy, Davis has no immediate value.
Rams: Austin Davis, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Rams DST
When the autopsy on Stacy’s 2014 fantasy season comes in, the cause of death will look eerily similar to all the risk factors surrounding him during draft season. His lack of explosion, omission from the passing game and maxed-out red-zone production last year were all red flags. They all conspired to force him to the real-life bench last week. With Cunningham entrenched as the pass-catching back and Mason proving himself a capable starter, Stacy has no business near a fantasy starting lineup this week. I’d caution against dropping him in deeper leagues for now, but his run of fantasy relevance may well be over.
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
Kudos to all of you out there who were not scared off by Foster’s injury history. Even though he missed one game completely and was limited in another, he is third among all running backs in fantasy points, trailing DeMarco Murray and Matt Forte. Only Murray has more points per game than Foster, who is second in the league in rushing yards. While the Titans have been respectable against the pass this year, Johnson and Hopkins are both pretty easy starts for Week 8. The Titans rank 22nd in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. While their better-than-average rush can beat the Houston offensive line, there should be enough room for Johnson and Hopkins to each do damage on Sunday.
The Titans finally put Charlie Whitehurst back where he’s most comfortable -- on the sideline -- and handed the keys over to rookie Zach Mettenberger. Even with the change, however, fantasy owners should not trust any Titans with this tough matchup against the Texans defense.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Blue, Garrett Graham
You have to wonder when Ryan Mallett is going to get his chance for Houston. It might be hard for the Texans to turn to the youngster when they’re just two games behind the Colts in the AFC North and right in the thick of the wild-card race, but head coach Bill O’Brien insists that Mallett will play eventually. Fitzpatrick has been serviceable, getting an impressive 7.97 yards per attempt, but he also has seven interceptions against eight touchdowns. The Texans have only lost one of their four games by more than one score, and those turnovers have really hurt the team in winnable games.
Titans: Zach Mettenberger, Jake Locker (hand), Bishop Sankey, Shonn Greene (groin), Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker, Titans DST
The Tennessee passing attack has been completely neutered with Whitehurst under center, so it’s not a surprise to see head coach Ken Whisenhunt turn to Mettenberger this week. The good news is that he has a great line in front of him, so his immobility can be hidden to a certain degree. The bad news is he’ll face J.J. Watt and, likely, Jadaveon Clowney. Hunter and Wright definitely get a bump in value with Mettenberger in, but they still are not strong plays this week. After two uninspiring games with the backfield to himself, Sankey is an easy sit against a solid Houston defense. Walker ranks sixth among tight ends in fantasy points this season, and has 31 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns. He’s just outside the top 12 at the position, which categorizes him as a sit recommendation. However, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad play. (I’m starting him in a competitive 12-team league, so plug him in and we can cheer for him together.)
Minnesota Vikings at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vikings: Jerick McKinnon
After insisting that he wanted to get Matt Asiata more touches at McKinnon’s expense, first-year head coach Mike Zimmer showed us he knows how to coach-speak and pulled the rug out on fantasy owners. McKinnon carried the ball 19 times for 103 yards against a strong Buffalo run defense last week, while Asiata got seven total touches. Fool us once, shame on you, Zimmer, but you’re not going to fool us again. McKinnon is a strong RB2 against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
Buccaneers: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Buccaneers DST
I know, I know. I’m sick of going to the Martin well, too. I do think he’s a worthy flex play this week, though. He had his most efficient game before Tampa Bay’s bye, running for 45 yards on 11 carries against the Ravens. However, that game got out of hand in a hurry, with Joe Flacco throwing for five touchdowns in the first 17 minutes. This game should be much closer, and that means Martin will be a fixture in the gameplan throughout. The Vikings have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year, making this as good a spot as ever to get Martin active. Jackson and Evans are both WR2s in this matchup, while the Buccaneers defense is my 12th-ranked unit for the week. I think they can get to Teddy Bridgewater and force him into a couple poor decisions.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Chase Ford, Rhett Ellison, Vikings DST
Asiata’s stint of fantasy relevance is thankfully behind us. McKinnon is a genuine weapon, not a plodding back who just happened to be put in an advantageous spot. I apologize to all you Asiata owners out there, but the rest of us are not sad to see him go. This is a great matchup for the Minnesota receivers on paper, as the Buccaneers have allowed the most fantasy points per game to the position this year. However, no receiver on this team reminds anyone of Julio Jones or Antonio Brown or Kelvin Benjamin or Steve Smith. Those are the four players who have really burned the Buccaneers this season.
Buccaneers: Mike Glennon, Bobby Rainey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Glennon is a low-end QB2 this week now that he has both Jackson and Evans at full strength. He has had that twice in his three starts, and put up 616 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in those two games. The efficiency wasn’t great in either game -- he combined for 7.16 yards per attempt -- but those stats play in two-quarterback leagues. He’s still comfortably on the outside of the starting class in traditional one-quarterback leagues, however, and that’s what we’re discussing here.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Seahawks DST
Wilson had his best statistical game as a pro last week, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 in the same game. He now faces a Carolina defense that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. The Panthers have also surrendered the third-most points to running backs and fourth-most points to receivers. Lynch should be a strong RB1 this week, while Baldwin made a statement against the Rams, and should be considered a low-end WR2 or high-end flex for Week 8. A matchup of two of 2013’s best defenses could very well become a shootout on Sunday. That right there should put an end to anyone taking a fantasy defense with anything but one of their last two picks in a draft.
Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen
Benjamin has been wildly consistent, scoring at least 10 fantasy points in five of his seven games this year. The Seahawks have done well against receivers this season, but Benjamin should have earned your trust by now. Olsen, meanwhile, should be in line for a huge game. Seattle has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, and Olsen has been among the very best this year. He is second in overall points and points per game, trailing only Julius Thomas. He leads all tight ends with 493 yards and 41 receptions, and is third with five touchdowns. He’s my No. 1 tight end for Week 8.
Seahawks: Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Cooper Helfert
Kearse and Richardson have scant value in deeper leagues, but it’s clear that Baldwin tops the depth chart now that Percy Harvin is on the opposite side of the country. He had 10 targets last week, while Kearse and Richardson had 10 between the two of them. You likely will not have to concern yourself with either of them in 10- or 12-team leagues this year.
Panthers: Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams (ankle), Darrin Reaves, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Panthers DST
This is not a knock on Newton, but rather a reflection of how deep the pool of quarterbacks is this week. Newton is my No. 13 quarterback for Week 8, coming in just behind Wilson, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith. There are, in fact, 17 quarterbacks I’d be comfortable rolling out as my starter in 12-team leagues, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Don’t be dismayed by this designation if you’re planning on starting Newton. Since shutting down Aaron Rodgers the first week of the season, the Seahawks have allowed an average of 254.4 passing yards and 2.2 passing touchdowns per game.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, Ravens DST
One of the biggest surprises this season is that Forsett ranks ninth among fantasy backs, with 80.1 points in standard-scoring leagues, and shows no signs of slowing down -- especially against the Bengals, who have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year and rank 30th in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Smith has become an easy weekly starter for fantasy owners, resuscitating his career in Baltimore. No team in the league has allowed more fantasy points per game to tight ends than the Bengals. Now that Daniels is a fixture in the offense, he should have a big game Sunday.
Bengals: Giovani Bernard, Mohamed Sanu
A.J. Green has completely or mostly missed half of Cincinnati’s games this season, making Bernard easily the best weapon on the field for the Bengals. They have to give him more opportunities to make plays near the goal line (he only has one red-zone target this year), and I bet they'll do that this week. Sanu was essentially a no-show for his fantasy owners last week, revealing the problems of anointing a guy an every-week play simply because he is the top option on his team. Sanu should be considered a flex against a Baltimore defense that has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to receivers.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Torrey Smith
Flacco is vicitimized by the depth of the quarterback pool this week. He’s my No. 16 quarterback this week, just behind Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill, and ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year, and have the worst pass rush in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Flacco and Torrey Smith have finally started connecting on deep balls in the last few weeks, helping the latter regain a measure of his fantasy value. He’s just on the outside looking in at the class of flex starters for Week 8.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green (toe), Brandon Tate, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
Head coach Marvin Lewis remains optimistic that Green will be able to get back on the field this week, but he was also optimistic that Green wouldn’t miss any time at all. At this point, fantasy owners should plan on being without the big-time receiver. That also means that Dalton cannot be trusted in this tough matchup. The Ravens have surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season.
Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Dolphins DST
Miller had another strong game last week, racking up 83 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the win over the Bears. He has now scored at least 13 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in five of Miami’s six games this season. The Jaguars have tightened up against running backs in the last two weeks, but it's worth noting that they faced the Browns in their first game without center Alex Mack and the hapless Titans with Charlie Whitehurst at the helm. LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw and Le’Veon Bell put up an average of 14.5 fantasy points against them. There may be no player getting less notice for a great season than Wallace. He has 30 catches for 359 yards and five touchdowns, and now has nine scores in his last 12 games, dating back to the 2013 season. With Ryan Tannehill playing better than ever, Wallace is an easy WR2.
Jaguars: Denard Robinson
Robinson ran for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in his first career start last week, claiming the lead role in the Jacksonville backfield. The soft Cleveland run defense definitely contributed to that effort, and he faces a tougher test in the Dolphins this week. They’ve mostly shut down running backs this year, allowing only Matt Forte, Knile Davis and Shane Vereen to break into double digits. Still, Robinson should see plenty of volume on Sunday. He’s a low-end RB2 or flex play.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay
Benching Tannehill is really tough this week after how well he has played in the last three games. He has 799 passing yards, 8.5 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and 132 rushing yards in that stretch. Moreover, the Jaguars are an easy foil, allowing the 12th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. They also just lost Paul Posluszny for the season to a torn pectoral. As we’ve already seen, however, the quarterback pool is remarkably deep this week. Tannehill is my No. 15 quarterback for Week 8.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson, Toby Gerhart (foot), Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
It’s a parade of Jaguars to the fantasy bench, as Shoelace is the only player from the team worth starting in Week 8. Both Shorts and Allen Robinson can be considered in deeper leagues. It was hard to leave off Shorts, who has 39 targets in three-plus games, but he has had double-digit fantasy points just once. Gerhart can be dropped outright in most leagues, while Johnson appears to be nothing more than a goal-line back. He still has a place on rosters in case Denard Robinson gets hurt or proves ineffectual, but he’s nowhere near the starting picture for Week 8.
Chicago Bears at New England Patriots
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Bears DST
I don’t think too many people would quibble with the notion that Forte is the best player on the Bears, but unfortunately, head coach Marc Trestman might be one of those people. Forte got just two carries in the first half of last week's game, as the Bears fell behind the Dolphins 14-0. However, expect that to be rectified this week, as the Patriots allow the eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Despite Cutler's inconsistency this year, he still has the sixth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks. You just can’t bench him, regardless of how ugly his play has been at times, because he has a tendency to force the ball to Marshall after his favored receiver goes on a tirade, as he did last week. Don’t be surprised if and when that happens. This isn't a terrible matchup for the Bears defense, which ranks eighth in fantasy scoring on the strength of 19 sacks and 12 takeaways. They’ve been able to get pressure thanks to Willie Young and Jeremiah Ratliff, and the Patriots rank second-worst in the league in pass blocking.
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski
Remember when the sky was falling in New England and Brady’s career was over? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say the hysteria has passed. In his last three games, Brady has 914 yards, 8.39 yards per attempt and nine touchdowns against zero interceptions. The Bears have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season, and they got carved up by Ryan Tannehill in the short and intermediate parts of the field in Week 7. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller could miss this week’s game with a broken hand, as well, which would make things even easier for Brady, Edelman and Gronkowski. The Bears rank 12th in the league against the run by Pro Football Focus’ metrics, so this could again be a better matchup for Vereen than it is for Jonas Gray or Brandon Bolden.
Bears: Santonio Holmes
This isn’t Columbus in the first half of last decade or Pittsburgh in the second half of it, right? OK, we’re good, then.
Patriots: Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Patriots DST
Gray got three carries last week while Bolden barely saw the field, but that’s just Bill Belichick being Bill Belichick. Either one of these guys can be a fantasy asset in the right matchup, but this is another one, like last week, that trends more in favor of Brady and the passing attack. It might be a surprise to see LaFell down here, but recall that one of his two big games came largely on garbage-time production. The Bears can be exploited through the air, but bet on Gronkowski, Edelman and Vereen being the main beneficiaries. Chandler Jones is expected to be out a month with a hip injury. Cutler is a whole lot more comfortable when the other team isn’t getting pressure on him, and Jones is by far New England’s best pass rusher.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
Bills: Sammy Watkins, Bills DST
Kyle Orton has brought some much-needed stability to the Buffalo offense, and that has helped Watkins find some consistency in the last few weeks. In three games with Orton at the helm, Watkins has 29 targets, 18 receptions, 236 yards and two touchdowns, which is an improvement over what he did in four games with EJ Manuel. Most important is the 8.1 yards per target Watkins is getting with Orton, a full two yards better than with Manuel slinging him the ball. The Jets have allowed seven different receivers to break double-digit fantasy points this year. Chances are strong that Watkins becomes the eighth on Sunday.
Jets: Chris Ivory, Eric Decker
Ivory had a big game against the Patriots last week, running for 107 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but the Bills present a much tougher challenge; the defense has allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year, and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown. Jerick McKinnon is the only back to run for at least 100 yards against the Bills, while he and Matt Forte are the only two who have scored double-digit fantasy points. I’m still playing Ivory, but he’s no better than a deep flex play. The Bills can be taken advantage of through the air, however, and Decker figures to benefit from Percy Harvin being on the other side of the field. He has been desperate for a running mate who could take away some attention.
Bills: Kyle Orton, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler
It will be interesting to see how the Buffalo backfield shakes out after Fred Jackson's and C.J. Spiller's injuries. Everyone is ready to hand the job to Brown, but the Bills clearly like something about Dixon. Doug Marrone hasn’t shown any willingness to feature just one back this season. If he wouldn’t do it with Jackson or Spiller, why would he all of a sudden do it with Brown or Dixon? I’m expecting the same sort of shenanigans here. There’s a high degree of difficulty against the Jets, too. I’d only be using Brown or Dixon if desperate.
Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland, Jets DST
Harvin may not return to the playoffs this season, but looking solely at his statistical production, it’s probably good news that he got out of Seattle. He has a unique skillset that needs to be, at least in part, built around for him to succeed, and that was never going to happen as long as he was with the Seahawks. The Jets would not have given up a decent draft pick if they weren’t ready to commit to Harvin, so things should improve for him in New York. I’m not rushing him into lineups this week, however. Let’s see what plans the Jets have for him before we trust him in fantasy leagues. Remember, he has had just about a week to learn this offense.
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Eagles: LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Zach Ertz
McCoy had his best performance of the year in the Eagles’ last game in Week 6, running for 149 yards on 22 carries. The bad news is that the Cardinals have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs (no back has run for more than 64 yards against Arizona this year), and with G Evan Mathis and C Jason Kelce still out, it's unlikely that McCoy will have a huge breakout game -- with big yardage totals and multiple touchdowns -- this week. The Cardinals have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to receivers, but a lot of that has to do with Demaryius Thomas’ 226-yard, two-touchdown effort. Take that game out of the equation, and they’ve allowed just the 20th most. Maclin may not be Thomas, but he can be trusted in this matchup. The Cardinals have been bad against tight ends for two years running, making Ertz a strong play this week. He caught three balls for 47 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia’s last game.
Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald
Palmer saved the Arizona passing game when he returned to the field two weeks ago. Now it’s time for his first truly big performance since making his way back. The Eagles have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and sixth most to receivers. The only quarterbacks they held to fewer than 20 points in standard-scoring leagues were Chad Henne and Eli Manning, and Henne still managed to rack up 17.4 points. The Eagles have struggled mightily to stop the pass -- they’ve allowed 13 passing touchdowns this year, the second most among teams that have already had a bye.
Eagles: Nick Foles, Darren Sproles (knee), Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Eagles DST
The Cardinals have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, but much of that is thanks to Peyton Manning hanging 479 yards and four touchdowns on them. Taking out that game started by a once-in-a-generation talent setting a career-high in single-game passing yards, the Cardinals have allowed the sixth-least points to quarterbacks. They can get after Foles, especially with Mathis and Kelce still out. The Eagles have had protection issues, and if those show up on Sunday, Foles will be in trouble. Sproles returned to practice this week and could play, but this is a bad matchup and he’s likely to be less than 100 percent.
Cardinals: John Brown, John Carlson, Cardinals DST
Even with Mathis and Kelce out, the Eagles have too potent an offense to roll out the Cardinals defense in fantasy leagues. Calais Campbell (knee) is still likely to be out, and Rashad Johnson, who has tendinitis in his knee, could join him on the shelf this week.
Oakland Raiders at Cleveland Browns
Raiders: Darren McFadden
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but fantasy owners can play McFadden with a fair amount of confidence this week. McFadden has run for 128 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in his last two games, and has an excellent matchup against the Browns this week. They’ve allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, letting at least one back get to double-digit points in five of their six games this year. We’re not talking about all stud backs, either. Mark Ingram, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Denard Robinson each achieved the feat, averaging 16.7 fantasy points against the Browns.
Browns: Ben Tate, Jordan Cameron, Browns DST
This could definitely be one of the quickest games of the year, as the Raiders have been terrible against the run, too. They’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs, surrendering 796 rushing yards and six touchdowns in six games. Tate struggled in what looked like a good matchup against the Jaguars last week, but don’t let that sway you from getting him active this week. The Browns were in their first game without center Alex Mack, and while that loss is going to linger, they should hopefully be better prepared this week. Cameron had just one catch last week, but he got six targets and remains the best weapon, especially in the red zone, in the Cleveland passing game.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Andre Holmes, James Jones, Rod Streater, Brice Butler, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
I want to take this opportunity to apologize for touting Holmes last week. I was blinded by the sheer numbers of his previous two games, and didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that this is a bad offense. No one in a bad offense can be a regular fantasy starter based on volume alone, and that was essentially the treatment given Holmes last week. He is not to be written off completely. Holmes remains a good depth receiver, and the Raiders have already had their bye. He can be very useful in Weeks 9 and 10 when six teams apiece take a rest. He should not, however, be in your lineup this week.
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Taylor Gabriel
I want to also take this opportunity to apologize for touting Hoyer as a low-end QB1 last week. I was blinded by the seemingly great matchup against the Jaguars, and didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that this is a substandard offense. No one in a substandard offense can be an easy fantasy starter based on matchup alone, and that was essentially the treatment given Hoyer last week. He’s clearly hurting without Mack on the field.
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Colts: Andrew Luck, Ahmad Bradshaw, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Trent Richardson
On the plus side for the Steelers, they’ve allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. On the downside, here’s the list of starting quarterbacks they have faced: Brian Hoyer, Joe Flacco, injured Cam Newton, Mike Glennon, Blake Bortles, Hoyer again, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. All of those guys fall just a bit short of the level Luck is playing at this season. Bradshaw has six receiving touchdowns this year. That’s more than Julio Jones and A.J. Green combined. His pace has to slow down at some point, but he’s also averaging nearly one target per game inside the 5-yard line. Chances are if he catches that, with the Colts’ play design, he’s getting in the end zone. Richardson just barely makes the starting group as a flex play this week. He underwent an MRI for a hamstring injury he suffered last week, and while he hasn’t practiced, he is expected to play. Hilton has been a stud this year while Wayne’s play has lagged, but with the effectiveness and frequency with which Luck is throwing the ball, both of these guys have to be started every single week.
Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
Is there a better running back and wide receiver combo in the league than Bell and Brown? I don’t think there is. Bell finally got back in the end zone for the first time since Week 1, racking up 145 yards from scrimmage and a score in the Steelers’ 30-23 win over the Texans last week. Brown, meanwhile, caught nine passes for 90 yards, missed a touchdown by about a toenail, and threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant. Week in, week out, they are as safe an RB1 and WR1 as you are going to find in fantasy leagues. Bell is especially dangerous for the Colts, as they’ve allowed the fifth-most receiving yards to running backs this year.
Colts: Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
Nicks gets a surprising amount of work in the red zone, seeing more looks from Luck than Hilton, and the same amount as Wayne, inside the 20, but he hasn’t cashed that into meaningful production. Fleener does get some attention from his old college buddy inside the 20, but he’s nowhere near consistent enough to play this week.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, LeGarrette Blount, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, Steelers DST
Roethlisberger came through in a neutral matchup after falling way short of expectations in two plus-matchups. The Colts have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year, and Roethlisberger is always going to be one of those quarterbacks who rides the border between start and sit. Given the superior matchup guys like Carson Palmer, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson have this week, Roethlisberger finds himself on the sit side of the line. Bryant seems to have taken over the No. 3 receiving job in Pittsburgh from Justin Brown. Keep an eye on him in deeper leagues.
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
It was just another day at the office for Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack last week. The quarterback had as many touchdowns (three) as incompletions, going 19-for-22 for 255 yards, with 11.59 yards per attempt in the Packers’ rout of the Panthers. Cobb led the way this week, catching six passes for 121 yards and a touchdown, while Nelson had four grabs for 80 yards and also found the end zone one time. It really doesn’t matter who the opponent is with the way Rodgers is playing. He is, at worst, a top-three quarterback every single week. Nelson and Cobb are always top-10 receivers, and chances are one will finish inside the top three, as well. Lacy ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. Of course, if that touchdown isn’t there, his owners are upset again. The Saints have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs this year, but he’ll again take a backseat to Rodgers and the receivers.
Saints: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham
We’re halfway through the fantasy regular season, and Brees ranks outside the top-10 scoring quarterbacks. He is sixth in points per game, but he has just 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and has thrown some particularly ugly picks that have really hurt the Saints. Colston took advantage of Graham-as-decoy last week, but it would follow that the big tight end will be able to play more like himself in Week 8. That’s bad news for Colston individually, but good news for the offense as a whole. The Packers have allowed big games to Marshawn Lynch and Chris Ivory this season, two backs with a similar running style to Ingram.
Packers: James Starks, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless, Packers DST
Adams is the one intriguing player here in non-deep leagues, but the bottom line is no one outside of Nelson, Cobb and Lacy gets enough looks to make a fantasy statement. It’s time to stop hoping for a third receiver or tight end to step up in Green Bay. The opportunity just isn’t there, and the Packers have no incentive to change anything given how well they are playing offensively.
Saints: Khiry Robinson, Travaris Cadet, Pierre Thomas (shoulder), Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Saints DST
Cadet could be a very useful player in full PPR leagues with Thomas out for the next 2-to-3 weeks. The third-year player out of Appalachian State has played a significant snap percentage in two games this season. In those games he caught six balls apiece, totaling 110 yards. He won’t get many, if any, carries, but he’ll be the main receiver out of the backfield. Thomas has been able to turn that into a lucrative role in recent years, and Cadet could do the same for the next few weeks. If you’re in a full PPR league, he’s worth starting in Week 8.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Redskins: Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
After a couple tough matchups with predictably bad results, Morris looked like a strong play against the Titans last week. Unfortunately, he hurt his ankle early in that game, and while he was able to play most of the day, it clearly was a hindrance. Now he gets another tough matchup against a Dallas defense that has allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. On the other hand, they have allowed 5.2 yards per carry, but have been somewhat lucky to give up just three touchdowns. They also do well against pass-catching backs, which doesn’t matter to Morris owners since he’s a non-factor in the passing game. This is a very tough matchup for Jackson, but he only needs three or four receptions to have a strong fantasy day. His value takes a hit with Colt McCoy at the helm, as does Reed’s, but it’s not like Kirk Cousins was setting the world on fire. The Cowboys have surrendered the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this year.
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cowboys DST
Washington has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and 11th most to receivers. You’re going to see plenty of Romo in this one. Williams has managed to score the 12th-most fantasy points among receivers this year, despite ranking 67th in targets, thanks to plenty of looks in the red zone and deep down the field. Williams is tied for 10th with nine red zone targets, and nearly two-thirds of his targets have traveled at least 20 yards in the air. Washington provides Murray and the Dallas offensive line with perhaps its stiffest test yet. This defense has given up the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, allowing just one rushing touchdown -- to Arian Foster in Week 1 -- and 3.4 yards per carry. Foster was also the only back they allowed to go north of 100 yards. The bet here is that Muray joins Foster in that exclusive club. With McCoy getting the start for Washington, Dallas is one of the best defenses to stream this week.
Redskins: Colt McCoy, Roy Helu, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Niles Paul, Redskins DST
McCoy will probably enjoy being back in Texas, at least until the game starts. That’s when events are likely to take an ugly turn for him. He’s just keeping the seat warm for Robert Griffin III, who could soon return from his ankle injury and inject some life into this offense. The Cowboys have allowed just two receivers all year to put up double-digit fantasy points. One of them, Odell Beckham, did so last week, but he caught just four passes for 34 yards. He broke through against Dallas thanks to two short touchdowns. Garcon’s stat line may have looked impressive last week, but nearly all of his production came on a fluky 71-yard touchdown that all started with an innocent screen pass.
Cowboys: Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
Witten probably has the widest gap between real-life value and fantasy value this season. He has played every single snap for the Cowboys this season and is the top-ranked run-blocking tight end in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. His ability as a blocker has helped the Cowboys rely so heavily on Murray and the ground game this year. However, that doesn’t do anything for his fantasy owners. He should not be started this week.
Quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith
Running backs -- Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Lamar Miller, Ahmad Bradshaw, Joique Bell, Andre Ellington, Eddie Lacy, Justin Forsett, Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, Ronnie Hillman, Branden Oliver, Jerick McKinnon, Alfred Morris, Denard Robinson, Mark Ingram, Ben Tate, Tre Mason, Darren McFadden
Wide Receivers -- Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Julio Jones, Golden Tate, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Floyd, Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Julian Edelman, Steve Smith, Sammy Watkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Keenan Allen, DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, Andre Johnson, Emmanuel Sanders, DeAndre Hopkins
Tight ends -- Greg Olsen, Rob Gronkowski, Owen Daniels, Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen, Jordan Reed, Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz, Antonio Gates, Travis Kelce, Jordan Cameron
Flex -- Chris Ivory, Marques Colston, Terrance Williams, Doug Martin, Doug Baldwin, Mohamed Sanu, Brian Quick, Roddy White, Kelvin Benjamin, Eric Decker, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Bowe
DST -- Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears
On the cusp
Quarterbacks -- Cam Newton, Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco
Tight ends -- Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Charles Clay
Flex -- Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Bishop Sankey, Jonathan Stewart, Cecil Shorts, Kendall Wright, Pierre Garcon, Torrey Smith, Brandon LaFell, Wes Welker
DST -- New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets