The quarterback position emerges relatively unscathed from the Week 8 byepocalypse. The six signal callers taking a seat this week are Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick. Only two of those players, Roethlisberger and Manning, are regular starters in one-quarterback formats, and Manning’s owner has likely found a second quarterback to, at the very least, compete with Manning for starts. Flacco, Tannehill and Kaepernick are streamers and mid-tier to low-end QB2s in superflex leagues. Keenum isn’t on anyone’s radar. In all likelihood, the overall quarterback position will be in worse shape two weeks from now when only four teams are on bye, including Detroit (Matthew Stafford), Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) and Oakland (Derek Carr).
That’s what makes Jameis Winston even more intriguing this week. He’s my No. 5 quarterback, four spots higher than his consensus ranking on FantasyPros, and it has nothing to do with bye weeks. Winston earns that spot on merit, with a slight boost from his matchup.
Through Week 7, Winston ranks 13th in total points in standard-scoring leagues, and ninth in points per game. Among quarterbacks who have had their byes, the only ones with more points than Winston are Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Winston has scored more points per game than Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Carr and Kirk Cousins.
Winston has three games this season with at least 21.66 standard-league points. In his other three games, he has scored 13.36 points or fewer. We can give him a bit of a pass for two of those games. Winston struggled in matchups with the Broncos and Cardinals, defenses that have allowed the second- and seventh-fewest points per game to quarterbacks. In fact, Winston put up more points against the Broncos than the average quarterback this season, out-scoring Luck, Dalton and Rivers in their respective matchups with the Broncos, while coming up just shy of Matt Ryan.
Taking a look at Winston’s three strong games—Week 1 against the Falcons, Week 3 against the Rams and Week 7 against the 49ers—one thing sticks out. They were his most efficient games. He completed two-thirds of his passes for 7.96 yards per attempt in those three contests. In two of them, wins over the Falcons and 49ers, he hit thresholds of 70% completions and 8.75 YPA. Efficiency is crucial for any quarterback, from both a fantasy and real-life perspective, and, for Winston, it appears even more important than the average passer. That should have him salivating over this week’s matchup with the Raiders.
The Raiders rank 20th in the league in completion percentage allowed (64.6%) and 30th in YPA allowed (8.44). Only the Browns and Panthers have been friendlier on a per-pass basis. The Raiders have surrendered the sixth-most points per game to quarterbacks, allowing at least 20 points in four of their seven games this season.
The Buccaneers get the Raiders at home this week, and are favored by one point (as of Thursday) in a game with an over/under of 49. This is the perfect setup for Winston. He should be in all of his owners’ lineups.
Matthew Stafford (at Houston)
Remember, matchup should be but one factor you consider when making start/sit decisions. When used as we did with Winston above, it adds to an already strong case. When used as the basis of a decision, it can lead to disaster. Stafford has a seemingly tough matchup with a Houston defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest points per game to quarterbacks this season. Stafford, however, has turned himself into a matchup-proof quarterback. The only proof you should need of that came in Week 5, when he threw for 7.2 YPA and three touchdowns against the Eagles, who have allowed the fewest points per game to the position. Get Stafford in your lineups with confidence.
Andy Dalton (vs. Washington)
All Dalton does this season is produce. He’s third in the league in yards (2,065) and YPA (8.39), and seventh in quarterback rating (100.7). He has had a QB rating of 103.4 or better in five of his seven games, including each of the last four. Washington has been solid against the pass this year, but they fattened up on games against Cody Kessler, Joe Flacco and Carson Wentz. Dalton should roll in London.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (at Cleveland)
Yep, he’s back. We just got done saying matchup can’t be the basis of a start/sit decision, but sometimes it is too good to ignore. The Browns have allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks this year. Every starter who has faced them, four of which who are outside the top 12 in points per game, has scored at least 18.18 standard-league points. That’s equal to Marcus Mariota’s season average, and he’s the No. 12 quarterback in points per game. At worst, you’re getting a low-end QB1. At best, you’re getting a top-five scorer at the position.
Brock Osweiler (vs. Detroit)
Many superflex owners are likely in beggars-can’t-be-choosers mode with just 26 teams in action this week. Kevin Hogan or Cody Kessler will be among the 26 starting quarterbacks, as will Jay Cutler against the Vikings and Sam Bradford against the Bears, facing off in Chicago. It’s a whole lot easier to find reasons to start than sit a quarterback in superflex leagues this week. Osweiler has a great matchup with a Detroit defense that has allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks this season. He has spent most of this season proving he isn’t all that good, but this should be a game where he takes advantage.
Tyrod Taylor (vs. New England)
Taylor’s rushing floor makes him an attractive pick every week, but he’s outside my top-15 for Week 8. He’s just on the wrong side of that group and is an easy play in superflex leagues, but this is a bad setup for him without Sammy Watkins. He has been able to make it work without his top receiver more often than not, but Bill Belichick presents a different kind of test. Taylor had one of his worst games of the season against the Patriots in Week 4, and that went down as a Bills win. LeSean McCoy’s potential absence would make life even harder for the Bills’ signal caller.
Philip Rivers (at Denver)
The Chargers beat the Broncos in San Diego two weeks ago, and Rivers scored all of 11.12 points in standard leagues. Somehow he’s going to improve on that with the Chargers in Denver? And he’s going to have to do it possibly without Hunter Henry? Rivers’s performance this season is nothing short of remarkable, but this is a bad week for him. He’s a low-end QB2, putting him on the radar in superflex leagues.
Theo Riddick (at Houston)
Riddick returned to practice in full after missing Detroit’s last two games with an ankle injury. Even if Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner hold down large roles in the running game, Riddick will assume his prominent role as a receiver. Through five games, he had 26 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Add 10 carries per game to that, and Riddick becomes an easy play in most weeks, let alone one where six teams are on bye.
Isaiah Crowell (vs. New York Jets)
There’s no question that Crowell has a tough matchup this week. The Jets have held Spencer Ware and LeSean McCoy completely in check this season, and limited both Le’Veon Bell and Christine Michael to fewer than four yards per carry. If the Browns can keep this game close, something they should be able to do against a 2–5 Jets team that has been one of this season’s greatest underachievers, Crowell is going to play a major role. Duke Johnson doesn’t really factor into the rushing attack any longer, guaranteeing Crowell a floor of 15 touches. He’s a low-end RB2 this week.
Chris Thompson (vs. Cincinnati in London)
With Matt Jones out this week, both Thompson and Rob Kelley will take on larger roles in the offense. While Kelley will be the nominal starter, the preference here is for Thompson. For one thing, he has a sizable role in the passing game locked down, catching 22 passes for 184 yards and a score through seven games. What’s more, he has 21 carries over the last two weeks, and picked up 73 yards on 12 totes last week. Kelley will likely handle goal-line work, but Thompson has him beat in all other facets of the game.
Matt Asiata (at Chicago)
The running back landscape is a wasteland this week. There’s no reason to pretend otherwise. Between all the injuries and byes, the fantasy community is looking at Asiata as not just a possible starter, but perhaps an easy one. He has outperformed Jerick McKinnon the last two weeks, both as a runner and receiver. The only two teams the Bears have really slowed on the ground this season, Detroit and Jacksonville, might have the two worst rushing offenses in the league. If Asiata gets himself 15-plus touches in this game, he’ll register as an RB2 for the week.
Mike Gillislee (vs. New England)
Everyone in the world other than Rex Ryan saw LeSean McCoy’s aggravated hamstring injury coming. Of course, Ryan’s opinion is the only one that matters, and McCoy owners are now likely staring down at least one week without him. Gillislee should get the start and, just as is the case with Asiata, expected volume is enough of a reason to play him this week. Gillislee has been effective in limited duty this season, and with all the injuries in Buffalo, the team will have no choice but to feature anyone with a pulse and a modicum of play-making ability.
Jordan Howard (vs. Minnesota)
So much for Howard taking over the backfield in Chicago. After a lackluster game against the Jaguars two weeks ago, he was out-snapped and out-carried by Ka’Deem Carey in the Bears’ loss to the Packers last week. Here comes that familiar refrain again. In a week with six teams on bye and a litany of backs on the shelf, someone like Howard, who should be good for 15-plus touches, almost has to be in a starting lineup. Even going up against what’s likely the best defense in the league, Howard should find his way into most of his owners’ lineups, thanks to volume.
Robert Kelley (vs. Cincinnati in London)
Volume is great, but it isn’t everything. We’ve seen Kelley for all of 17 carries in the NFL, most of which came in low-leverage situations. He’ll likely get the nod in the backfield for Washington this week, but Chris Thompson owns passing downs, which could be plentiful with Cincinnati’s offense on the other side of the field. Kelley can make starting lineups this week because of all the byes, but he’s just barely inside the top 30 at the position. At best, he’s an RB3 and deep league flex option.
Jerick McKinnon (at Chicago)
This is the other side of the Asiata coin. The same person can’t feel good about both of these players, which is why I have McKinnon as a sit. The fact that Asiata has been a better, and more frequently used, receiver than McKinnon is the most troubling development. That was supposed to be McKinnon’s bailiwick and the one aspect that balanced Asiata getting goal-line work. If he loses even a share of the passing game work, his ceiling crashes down. He lost nearly all of it last week.
Duke Johnson (vs. New York Jets)
Somehow, Johnson still has a top-30 consensus ranking on FantasyPros among running backs this week. How is that possible? He has three games this season with more than 60 yards from scrimmage. He has one game all year with double-digit fantasy points in standard leagues. I suppose a week with six teams on bye makes him an easy play in full PPR leagues, but even there his ceiling is limited. In any other format, he’s barely worth holding onto, let alone starting. The Cleveland backfield belongs to Isaiah Crowell.
Darren Sproles (at Dallas)
Here’s another back that too large a swath of the fantasy community seems to want to play “remember when” with, ignoring the present-day realities. Sproles has showed up exactly once for his fantasy owners this season. Outside of his 128-yard, one-touchdown effort as a receiver against the Steelers in Week 3, Sproles has 225 yards from scrimmage in five games. A ridiculous 32.3% of his standard-league points this season came on one play, his 73-yard touchdown reception against the Steelers. How is this guy even on the radar in any fantasy league?
Ty Montgomery (at Atlanta)
Montgomery did a lot of everything for the Packers last week, catching 10 passes for 66 yards and running the ball nine times for 60 yards. He could give up some carries to Knile Davis this week, but the Packers would be fools to move completely away from Montgomery as a runner. The Falcons, meanwhile, have allowed the seventh-most points per game to running backs, and have been particularly susceptible to receivers out of the backfield. Opposing backs have racked up 58 catches (second most) for 476 yards (most) and three touchdowns (second most) against the Falcons. As a receiver, Montgomery will almost certainly avoid Desmond Trufant, who will likely shadow Jordy Nelson.
Will Fuller (vs. Detroit)
This should be a great week for both Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins to get on track. The Lions have allowed the ninth-most points per game to receivers. No defense, not even the Browns, have been friendlier to quarterbacks from a fantasy standpoint. Even when defenses have kept Fuller quiet, with plenty of help from Brock Osweiler, he has been on the field for every play and totaled no fewer than six targets. His owners want him in their lineups this week.
Dez Bryant (vs. Philadelphia)
I’ll keep this one short, since it’s likely few owners are considering keeping Bryant on their bench this week. It’s always wise to temper expectations in a player’s first week back from injury, especially one like Bryant’s that kept him out for a month. Still, that reality doesn’t push Bryant to most fantasy benches. It might make him more WR2 than the WR1 we’re used to, but he still rates as, at worst, a top-25 receiver this week.
Alshon Jeffery (vs. Minnesota)
The Vikings have allowed the second-fewest points to receivers this season. No receiver has had more than 76 yards against them, and they’ve faced the likes of Odell Beckham, DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Just three receivers—Nelson, Hopkins and Dorial Green-Beckham—have hit paydirt against the Vikings. And yet, Jeffery is no worse than a low-end WR2 this week. Jay Cutler will make his return from a thumb injury, which should translate to a major target share for Jeffery. In Cutler’s seven quarters of action this season, Jeffery has 10 targets and 178 yards.
Stefon Diggs (at Chicago)
Diggs has slowed down considerably since a strong start to the year, totaling 11 catches for 105 yards in his last three games. Groin and hamstring strains were at least partially culpable, limiting him in two games and costing him another entirely. He appears to have put those in the rear-view mirror, and gets a matchup with a Bears team that has been torched by Will Fuller (five catches, 107 yards, one touchdown), T.Y. Hilton (10-171-1), Davante Adams (13-132-2) and Randall Cobb (11-95-1) this season.
Michael Thomas (vs. Seattle)
Over the last four weeks, Thomas has 26 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 12.58 points per game in that span. He has scored at least 10.4 points in all four of those games, and has hit at least 13 points three times. Thomas has turned into a real weapon for Drew Brees, and is his quarterback’s favored target in the red zone. Seattle presents an obvious challenge, but Thomas’s owners should fear no matchup after what he has showed through six weeks of his career. The rookie out of Ohio State is on pace for 96 catches, 1,165 yards and eight touchdowns.
Michael Floyd (at Carolina)
I can’t believe I’m going down this road again, and yet here I am. The Panthers have been absolutely dreadful against the pass this season, allowing the third-most points per game to quarterbacks and 10th most to receivers. Their 8.64 YPA allowed ranks dead last in the league. The Cardinals placed Jaron Brown on IR earlier this week, and John Brown is questionable because of muscle fatigue related to a recent diagnosis of his having the sickle-cell trait. That could result in a big workload for Floyd against a substandard pass defense.
Cameron Meredith (vs. Minnesota)
A good argument for starting Meredith this week, beyond bye- and injury-induced desperation, doesn’t exist. The Bears host the Vikings, a defense that has allowed the second-fewest points per game to receivers and sixth fewest to quarterbacks, on Monday night. Meredith’s benefactor, Brian Hoyer, is out for the season. Back in his place is Jay Cutler, who has been known to force feed his top receiver. Until further notice, that is still Alshon Jeffery. Meredith is off the start radar in all fantasy formats.
Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin (at Denver)
Two weeks ago, the Broncos limited Williams and Benjamin to a combined 45 yards on six catches. And that was in a Chargers win. What chances do these two stand going on the road to Denver in a game where the Broncos are favored by 4.5 points? Philip Rivers will likely have to air the ball out, so there stands an opportunity for one or both receivers to volume their way to a big game, but no receiver has done that yet against the Broncos. T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, Mike Evans and Julio Jones have all come up way short of their season averages when playing the Broncos this year. Williams and Benjamin aren’t likely to crack this nut.
Willie Snead (vs. Seattle)
Snead is running third in the pecking order in New Orleans. Combine that with a matchup against the Seahawks, and it’s hard to get him into a fantasy lineup. Thomas gets by because of his consistency and red-zone skills. Snead has neither of those. He’s outside the top 35 at the position this week.
Travis Benjamin (at Denver)
Benjamin hasn’t been nearly the threat he was supposed to be for the Chargers, especially after injuries to Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead increased his visibility in the offense. He had three catches for 17 yards against the Broncos two weeks ago. He’ll likely do better than that this week, but not to the point that his owners will wish they had him in their lineups.
DeSean Jackson (vs. Cincinnati in London)
Jackson has been one of the most disappointing players this season, totaling 27 catches for 368 yards and one touchdown in seven games. His relative disappearance is made all the more bewildering by the fact that Kirk Cousins is sixth in the league in both yards and attempts. The Bengals have allowed the eighth-fewest points per game to receivers this season, and have kept most receiving corps quiet outside of the Denver duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who burned them for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (vs. Detroit)
Fiedorowicz has turned himself into a enough of a part of the Houston passing game the last four weeks to put himself on the fantasy radar. He has 19 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns in that span, good for an average of 8.73 points per game. That’ll play in a depleted tight end pool. The Lions have struggled mightily against tight ends, allowing the third-most points per game to the position. They’ve allowed at least 7.9 points to a tight end in six of their seven games this season.
Jack Doyle (vs. Kansas City)
Doyle has 13 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts’ last two games, and appears set for a big role in the passing game so long as Dwayne Allen is on the shelf. The regular starter will be out another week or two because of an ankle injury, giving Doyle at least one more start. Donte Moncrief is expected to return from a shoulder injury this week, and while he could eat into Doyle’s target share, the tight end is still an easy play at his position.
Gary Barnidge (vs. New York Jets)
Barnidge has at least 57 yards and five targets in five straight games. Given the state of the tight end position, you could do a lot worse. Barnidge is getting plenty of opportunity, and there’s a real chance his benefactor, Josh McCown, returns for Cleveland this week. Even if it’s Kevin Hogan under center, Barnidge rates as a low-end TE1 option.
Coby Fleener (vs. Seattle)
Fleener has two games this season with more than five fantasy points in standard leagues, and last week he split snaps nearly right down the middle with Josh Hill. Add to the mix a matchup with Seattle’s defense, and it’s hard to have much confidence in Fleener. The shallow tight end position still makes him a borderline play, but he’s more high-end TE2 than low-end TE1.
Julius Thomas (at Tennessee)
Thomas is questionable with an ankle injury, making him a risky play on a short week if he does get the nod. Over his last three games, he has seven catches for 61 yards, salvaging his game last week with a touchdown. There’s little to like about Thomas this week.
Zach Miller (vs. Minnesota)
Jay Cutler’s return is great news for Alshon Jeffery, and neutral news for everyone else in the offense. Miller has been relatively quiet the last few weeks after three straight games with at least a touchdown or 70 receiving yards. Minnesota’s defense makes life tough on every position group, and that brings down the ceiling of a Chicago offense that has been mediocre, at best, this season. Cutler brings up the ceiling, but not enough to make Miller an attractive fantasy option.
Defenses to stream
San Diego Chargers (at Denver)
The Chargers have looked like a completely different defense since Joey Bosa made his career debut. When they met the Broncos two weeks ago, they had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, while allowing just 13 points in a big home win. Even though they go on the road for the rematch, Bosa makes the Chargers a viable stream play almost every week.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Philadelphia)
The pickings for most defense streamers will be thin with six teams on bye this week. As we say often, when in doubt, go with a home team that is favored. The Cowboys don’t have much of a pass rush, but they have exceeded expectations, forcing nine turnovers and holding teams to 17.8 points per game.