- With six teams getting the week off, SI.com’s fantasy experts sort out how to plug the holes in your lineup. Plus, the risks and rewards of picking up superstars set to come off IR and Week 8's most fantasy friendly matchups.
Michael Beller: Fitz, I’m not complaining. I’m really not. This is merely an honest question that takes on a somewhat-annoyed tone. Is there any logical reason we can’t have evenly distributed bye weeks? There are 32 teams in the NFL. Is there something wrong with four teams on bye for eight weeks? From Week 4 through Week 11, four teams could go on bye. What’s wrong with that? There’s no logistical reason I’m missing that makes that impractical, right? Seems like it would be a whole lot better, for both fantasy and real-life purposes.
Alas, we do not have even bye weeks, so Week 8 marks our first dance with six teams taking a seat. I suppose we should thank our lucky stars, since it could have been much worse. A few of the teams on bye this week—Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles—aren’t exactly laden with fantasy talent. Still, any time six teams go on bye, a lot of fantasy owners are bound to be reaching to fill out their lineups. And that’s what leads to guys like Matt Asiata and Michael Floyd being listed among the recommended starts in my start/sit column for the week.
While the week started with a focus on byes, I think it will go down as the Devontae Booker Breakout Show. Everything is set up too well for him not to shine on Sunday. He was already trending in the right direction, both in terms of usage and production, putting up career highs across the board last week when he ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Now the rookie out of Utah gets the Denver backfield all to himself thanks to C.J. Anderson’s knee injury, starting with a great matchup with the Chargers. Joey Bosa has injected some life into the San Diego defense, but the Ohio State product disrupts the pass a whole lot more than the run. The talent is abundant, the matchup is cushy, and the likely context—the Broncos are favored by nearly a touchdown—is right. Booker rolls over the Chargers. What do you suppose his DFS ownership rate will be this week? No matter how high, I think you have to play him. Cheap volume is cheap volume, and it’s all the more attractive when it’s attached to a back like Booker.
Booker gets the spotlight, too, because there are just two games in the late afternoon time slot thanks in part to those six byes. The other game at that time should be a doozy, as well, at least in fantasy terms. The Falcons host the Packers in the game with the highest over/under of the week, a robust 52.5 points. Most everyone is expecting Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones to do their thing. But Fitz, I ask you: If you had to bet on the highest-scoring Packer receiver, would you go with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams or Ty Montgomery? My money is on Cobb, who leads the NFL in receptions and targets the last three weeks.
The Week 8 roundtable is teed up for you, my friend. Now it's up to you to do your best Kyle Schwarber and rip it for yet another frozen rope.
Pat Fitzmaurice: Ah, the mysteries of the NFL schedule. I’ve sought answers to why the NFL goes bye-heavy in some weeks and bye-light in others, but my quest has gone unfulfilled. Frankly, I enjoy the challenge it poses to us as fantasy owners. Navigating consecutive six-team bye weeks takes acuity. Drafting well certainly helps, but owners usually have to work the waiver wire and/or the trade market to put out strong lineups in six-team bye weeks. The fantasy season shouldn’t just be a flat, oval track. Think of it as more of a steeplechase. A six-team bye week is one of those big hedges with water on the other side. Clearing this obstacle cleanly takes some skill.
Booker owners certainly got a nice little gift this week, didn’t they? I don’t want to wear out the steeplechase analogy, but they were just handed electric hedge trimmers. (And my condolences to the C.J. Anderson owners who don’t have Booker as a handcuff.) I have him ranked RB6 this week. Given his yard-sale DFS price, his ownership rate might approach 50%. Jacquizz Rodgers was bargain-priced in DFS last week after Doug Martin’s hamstring setback, and his ownership rate was, I believe, right around 40% on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Booker has a slightly more difficult matchup than Rodgers’s cakewalk against the 49ers last week, but Booker is held in higher regard than Rodgers, a journeyman scatback.
As for the Packers’ receivers, I’m with you. Are we sure the Green Bay-Atlanta game will be played in Fulton County and not Cobb County? (Rim shot) Actually, I don’t know if any single Green Bay receiver is a great bet this week. I’m definitely not betting on Jordy Nelson, who’s set to see a lot of shutdown corner Desmond Trufant. Cobb, Montgomery and Adams are all likely to see around 10 targets in what figures to be a pass-heavy game plan. Those three are pretty solid PPR bets for this week, but it’s hard to tell which of them, if any, will truly pop.
Speaking of Montgomery, I know we talked about this earlier on our podcast, but we should probably reiterate our position on the debate that’s become a source of contention in many fantasy leagues: What should Montgomery’s positional designation be? ESPN has given him RB eligibility. Yahoo has not. CBS put pressure on individual commissioners by announcing that the site itself wouldn’t be changing his designation while also letting owners know that there was a way for commissioners to do it. (As commissioner of a CBS-administered league, I was less than thrilled with that passing of the buck.) My position is pretty simple: I think Montgomery should be considered a WR for the balance of the season. Going into this year’s drafts, we all classified him as a WR and assessed him as such. For him to be reclassified now would be an unfair bonus to Montgomery owners. What do you think, Beller?
One other thing to run by you, my man. What’s your take on some of these PUP/IR guys who may or may not be returning to lineups at some point? I'm thinking specifically of Dion Lewis, Sammy Watkins and Adrian Peterson. I’m pretty skeptical in all three cases (though, as you may have noticed, I claimed Watkins for $1 in our Chicago Media League this week). Someone had asked me about AP this week and seemed mortified that I wouldn’t recommend putting a waiver claim. But claiming Peterson is like launching an expedition in search of a Yeti. If the best-case scenario plays out, you’ll be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. But the odds of that happening are incalculably remote, and you’re going to spend a lot of cold nights on a Nepalese mountainside waiting for your elusive prey to arrive. Be my Sherpa on this one: What say you about Lewis, Watkins and Peterson?
Beller: I think Yahoo! and NFL.com have it right, ESPN has it wrong, and CBS has it cowardly. Come on, CBS, make a decision. This isn’t baseball, where positions are clearly defined. When a guy is playing third base, he’s playing third base. If he moves to the outfield, he’s playing outfield. Multi-position eligibility in baseball makes sense, because positions in baseball are fixed. The same is not true in football. A lot of players do a little of everything, and we can’t be handing out secondary positional designations to everyone. Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Tevin Coleman all line up as receivers multiple times in every game. Rob Gronkowski has been making a living starting his routes outside the numbers for years. Should all of them garner WR eligibility, too? In football, a player is what his team says he is, and the Packers say Montgomery is a receiver who is getting more work as a running back out of necessity. What happens if and when Knile Davis takes over the lion’s share of the work in the Green Bay backfield and Montgomery is back to getting three or four carries in a game? His owners should still get to use him as a running back because the Packers featured him in the backfield once upon a time? I don’t think so.
I have zero interest in Lewis, Watkins and Peterson. I could see an argument for Lewis since he’s back at practice, but James White has played well in his stead, and the Patriots have no incentive to rush back a player rehabbing a torn ACL. I'll take a page out of our buddy Scott Pianowski's book for this one. Injury optimism is a dangerous elixir. Going back to my first entry in the roundtable, there aren’t too many Kyle Schwarbers in the world, Fitz. Most players don’t come back from injury and immediately pick up where they left off before they went down. Just ask Jordy Nelson or Jamaal Charles. It just isn’t that easy. The price for acquiring Lewis, Watkins or Peterson now is much less than it was for Nelson or Charles back in draft season, but I still think the odds are extremely strong that you’re not getting a player who will be able to contribute in a meaningful way this year.
Fitz, you’ve been to my apartment a few times, so you’re familiar with my living room setup. We’ve got two TVs in the living room, and I add a third screen to the mix with a computer on Sundays. Two of those screens lock on an interesting game, while the third is trained to Red Zone. This week, Raiders-Buccaneers will get top billing at the Beller house. Their team names may honor the legacy of piracy, but I don’t think either will steal happiness or positivity from their fantasy owners this week, specifically the fantasy-relevant players on the home team. Mike Evans is a legitimate star. Jameis Winston should thrive against a defense that has helped produce some of the most efficient quarterback games this season. Jacquizz Rodgers is getting more work than every running back this side of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. I love the trio as a whole, and will be building DFS lineups with all three of them at the center.
Don’t hold your breath, London, but I think the NFL finally sent you a decent game. If nothing else, you’ll get to see A.J. Green, who has been an absolute delight this season. But I actually think the Londoners who attend Washington-Cincinnati on Sunday will see two solid teams that could both end up in the playoffs, featuring exciting players on both sides of the ball. I’m expecting the Bengals to remain on course after getting right against the Browns last week. There’s no shame in your four losses coming to Pittsburgh, Denver, Dallas and New England, with three of those on the road. I think the Bengals are the sleeping—not giant, because that’s a little too sanguine, but perhaps contender. The Bengals are the league's sleeping contender, and their next six games are all winnable. I think they ride a seven-game winning streak into a rematch with Pittsburgh in Week 15. Meanwhile, with Matt Jones sitting this one out because of his knee injury, where do you slot Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson among running backs and flex options?
Fitz: My theory is that the execrable NFL matchups we’ve been sending overseas are payback to England for foisting Coldplay upon us. You give us Chris Martin, we give you Case Keenum. (Actually, A Rush of Blood to the Head is a pretty terrific album; I’m not quite sure why everything went so wrong for Coldplay after that, but never mind.) Yes, perhaps Washington-Cincinnati can be an olive branch to our British friends. I mean, we have to give them a decent matchup now and again, don’t we? If they abandoned the European Union, they can certainly abandon the NFL.
It’s hard to gin up any enthusiasm for Rob Kelley, even if the Jones injury leads to Kelley's first NFL start. At Tulane, Kelley never ran for more than 420 yards or three TDs in a single season, and his athletic measurables don’t exactly suggest a prosperous NFL career. I’m a little more enthusiastic about Thompson. He has a third-down skill set, but he has a heck of a lot more wiggle than Kelley, and Thompson could be an attractive play in PPR leagues if Jones doesn’t suit up for this one.
Raiders-Buccaneers should indeed be a fun watch. Is there a case to be made that Mike Evans is the single most valuable asset in dynasty leagues? He just turned 23, and he’s already an absolute monster. After an erratic 2015 performance, Evans has completely ironed the wrinkles out of his game. And is it crazy to think that he’s capable of maintaining the touchdown-per-game pace? The kid is damn near uncoverable, and Jameis Winston, a pretty impressive youngster in his own right, has no compunction about force-feeding Evans even when it isn't entirely prudent. Evans is a special player, and it’s a joy to watch him every week. Another young guy I love watching is Derek Carr. Man, does he have an arm! If we threw all the NFL players in the league into a free-agent pool and drafted from scratch, Carr would have to be a top-10 pick, wouldn’t he? There’s no young quarterback I’d rather have for the long term, and that includes Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. I also think Carr is mildly underrated as a fantasy commodity right now. I sense a huge game coming from Carr this week.
What are you expecting from Drew Brees on Sunday? Brees almost always puts up big numbers at home, but he has a daunting matchup against the Seahawks. I have him ranked QB7 this week. Too optimistic? As tough as the Seattle secondary is, Brees’s armory is pretty well-stocked these days, due in part to the emergence of rookie Michael Thomas. I don’t think the Saints QB will light up the Seahawks, but a 280-yard, two-TD game is certainly within reach.
Beller: There’s absolutely a case to be made that Evans is the most valuable asset in dynasty formats. Did you know he’s almost two years younger than David Johnson? Even last year was better than a lot of people remember. Sure, the drops were an issue, but his substandard fantasy season was the result of fluky touchdown luck and nothing else. He’s evening that out and then some this season. Not only is it perfectly sane to think he’s capable of maintaining his touchdown-per-game pace, but I think he will do it. In addition to the factors in his favor you raised, how about the fact that, with all due respect to Jacquizz Rodgers, the absence of Doug Martin is a further boon for Evans’s fantasy stock. And while I won’t parrot everything you said, I will say that we’re in lockstep on Carr. What you have to love about him in a “draft one player to start your franchise from scratch” discussion is that he has made identifiable strides every season he has been in the league. He’s the anti-Bortles. That’s a very good thing.
Are you too optimistic on Brees? If you are, I don’t know what I am, because I have him QB4. As great as some defenses are across the league—Seattle is certainly in that number—the NFL is a league where great offense is going to drive results nine times out of 10. Offense doesn’t get much better than Brees leading the Saints in the Superdome. This season, Brees has thrown for 1,264 yards, 8.72 YPA and 11 touchdowns against two interceptions in three games at home. Last year, it was 2,853 yards, 9.16 YPA, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions at home. Whether or not the Saints win is another question entirely, but I don’t think the Seahawks slow him down much, if at all, this week. A 280-yard, two-TD game feels more like steely-eyed realism than optimism.
Time to leave our chairs at the roundtable for another week, Fitz. I’ll leave you with three questions. First, do you have an upset pick this week? I like Josh McCown to lead the Browns to their first win, taking advantage of a weak Jets secondary. Second, who’s at the center of your DFS lineups? I already gave you my Tampa Bay triumvirate. Third, why do you refuse to engage me on Kyle Schwarber?
Fitz: O.K., I'll take those three questions one at a time:
1. Although Carson Wentz has lost his mojo in recent weeks, I like the Eagles to bump off the Cowboys in Dallas. Philadelphia quietly has the second-best point differential in the league (+68), just one point behind New England. I was sure the Eagles would be doormats this year, but I’ve come around. They’re legit.
2. Well, we already talked about Booker, who’s almost an automatic DFS play at fire-sale price. I also love the dirt-cheap C.J. Fiedorowicz. He’s become Brock Osweiler's frequent checkdown option, and he faces a Detroit defense that hemorrhages fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
3. Hey, I like everything about Kyle Schwarber with the possible exception of his bad beard. But with a body and face like that, he would have fit right in with my beloved 1982 Milwaukee Brewers.
All right, my man. The Cubs are coming back home for three big games, and I know your heart will be in your throat all weekend. May the three-game home stand at Wrigley be good to you and Cubs Nation, buddy.