FOX Sports Exclusive
Use caution with Ryan in Week 8
As I Tweeted out last night, the Week 8 schedule began with Doug Martin demonstrating precisely why fantasy owners salivated over him during the draft season. Martin was positively masterful during his 214-yard, two-touchdown performance.
The Buccaneers produced a dominant effort against the Vikings on the road, thus ending a long road losing streak. Once again, Josh Freeman posted a huge night for fantasy owners, passing for 262 yards with three touchdowns. I could nitpick and point out that Freeman completed only 19-of-36 attempts (52.8%) and that he’s still only completing 55.2% of his pass attempts overall. Fantasy owners (and Tampa Bay fans) will simply point to the stat lines and shrug. Freeman has thrown three touchdown passes in three consecutive games. Can he make it a four-pack in “The Black Hole” next week?
With Freeman setting a high bar, let’s set the table for the remainder of the Week 8 slate. Remember, the Bills, Texans, Ravens and Bengals take a seat.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. WAS
Roethlisberger started the season with a pass-happy frenzy through three weeks (eight touchdown passes), though he’s been slowed in three straight games following the Week 4 Bye with single-touchdown performances. He’s set to get back on track this week against the heretofore terrible Washington pass defense.
The Redskins have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, including 15 passing touchdowns (328.4 passing yards per game). Washington has tied for the third-most interceptions in the NFL (10), so Roethlisberger will need to be careful with the ball. Look for Mike Wallace to find redemption for a sub-par Week 7 effort with a long-distance reception early.
Eli Manning at DAL
Manning probably rates a spot among the “Exclusions,” but I’ll hold back until he dominates the strong Dallas pass defense. The Cowboys did a fine job in Week 1 against Manning, limiting him to 213 passing yards (21-of-32) with one touchdown and three sacks. Of course, we remember that Victor Cruz had an uncharacteristically weak performance in that game.
I anticipate that Manning and the Giants step up to the huge NFC East challenge against the Cowboys (seventh-best against QBs). The physical Dallas cornerbacks will work to limit Cruz and Hakeem Nicks on the edges. Look for Domenik Hixon and Martellus Bennett to make some hay across the middle while the linebackers seize up to attack the New York run game.
Tony Romo vs. NYG
Romo posted his best performance of the season in Week 1 against the Giants with 307 passing yards and three touchdowns. In fact, he’s produced just one multi-touchdown game in his past five starts.
With the exception of a dominant road effort against Alex Smith, the Giants’ secondary has been generous to quarterbacks. New York has allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, generating 12 interceptions against 10 passing touchdowns (one rushing touchdown). I anticipate sizable contributions from Kevin Ogletree and Jason Witten in this game.
Philip Rivers at CLE
When last we saw Philip Rivers, the Broncos had completed a ridiculous comeback and Rivers was lamenting his six turnovers. The Week 7 Bye allowed Rivers and San Diego’s inability to hold a lead to slide off of the back page. Of course, it was replaced by a “Stickum” controversy.
Fantasy owners could take some solace from that Week 7 defeat. Antonio Gates finally turned in his first touchdown receptions of the year. Look for him to produce a huge effort against the weak Cleveland pass defense. The Browns have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. I know that Joe Haden missed four of those games. Cleveland hasn’t performed much better since his return. Yes, Andrew Luck didn’t pass for a ton of yards or light up the scoreboard. He did run for two touchdowns.
Andrew Luck at TEN
Luck didn’t obliterate the Browns as fantasy owners had hoped. However, he did tuck the ball and ran for two touchdowns to lead the Colts to a narrow victory. It was Luck’s third straight multi-touchdown performance since the Week 4 Bye.
He’s in line for another huge effort this week against the Titans. Tennessee has allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, surrendering 16 passing touchdowns against five interceptions. Reggie Wayne is a rock-solid No. 1 WR, of course. Look for Coby Fleener (Dwayne Allen as a late Aaron Hernandez replacement) and Donnie Avery to contribute strong plug-in numbers in a high-scoring game.
Michael Vick vs. ATL
Vick has been a turnover machine this season, to be sure, but there have been some signs of life in the past two weeks against the Steelers and Lions. He’s logged back-to-back multi-touchdown games (three this season) with three 300-yard games.
Vick’s hardly a dominant play this week against the Atlanta defense (ninth-most points allowed to quarterbacks), a unit that has allowed eight total touchdowns (two rushing) while producing 10 interceptions. He won’t have a clean sheet in terms of turnovers, but the overall numbers will be there for a top-10 performance.
Jay Cutler vs. CAR
Cutler tossed an early touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall against the Lions, and it appeared that he and the Bears were ready to race to a blowout victory. Instead, the Bears relied heavily on the running game and Cutler was slowed markedly (they pulled back the reins) after being body-slammed by Ndamukong Suh.
The Carolina defense has performed better than anticipated thus far. However, cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker Jon Beason have both been placed on injured reserve, thereby depleting the back-seven. “All-Name Team” member Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Josh Norman will try to contain the big-play potential of Brandon Marshall and Devin Hester. Watch out for Earl Bennett in the slot. I expect to see Mike Tice work the running game as he did in Week 7 against Detroit, thereby cinching up the linebackers to set up shots downfield.
Carson Palmer at KC
There was some excitement surrounding Romeo Crennel’s defense coming into the season. It was a train running off the tracks through six weeks of play. Will the Chiefs have fixed anything during the off week?
Palmer has hardly been dominant, but he’s been a solid option for fantasy owners in the past two weeks. He’s averaged 325.5 passing yards with two passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and four turnovers against the Falcons and Jaguars. The Chiefs have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (13 touchdowns against four interceptions). Darren McFadden’s success on the ground will set up play-action opportunities with Heyward-Bey and Moore.
Sam Bradford vs. NE
Bradford hardly rates as a rock-solid fantasy option, but injuries, ineffectiveness and Bye weeks put him on the board for Week 8 against the hapless New England secondary. Bradford’s averaged 285 passing yards in the past two weeks against the Dolphins and Packers.
The Patriots have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (16 touchdowns against seven interceptions). Opposing quarterbacks have thrown multiple touchdown passes against New England in five consecutive games.
Matt Hasselbeck vs. IND
Jake Locker is making progress, but he’s expected to sit out one more game before returning from his shoulder injury. The reemergence of Chris Johnson (he’s my No. 2 option this week) puts Hasselbeck in line for a strong game against the Indianapolis secondary. Indianapolis has generated just two interceptions while allowing 12 touchdown passes (11th-most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks).
Fantasy owners can expect fireworks in this game. The Titans still rank dead-last in scoring defense, having allowed 34 points per game. As a result, Hasselbeck’s going to be throwing to keep pace and to supplement Johnson’s heroics.
Cam Newton at CHI
Numerous headlines and radio interviews have discussed Cam Newton’s second-year regression this week. We can all agree that Newton has regressed this season, right?
Newton has produced multiple touchdowns in two of his six starts this season, and he’s passed for fewer than 250 yards in four consecutive games (253 in Week 2). It’s obviously a difficult spot for Newton in Week 8 against the ball-hawking Chicago defense that has allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Bears have generated 14 interceptions against five touchdowns and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown to a quarterback (39 rushing yards).
Matthew Stafford vs. SEA
I was at Soldier Field on Monday night to see Stafford and the Lions visit the Bears. Stafford had an early opportunity for a HUGE play with Calvin Johnson, but Johnson flat-out dropped it. It was the big play Detroit fans and fantasy owners had long anticipated, and it fell incomplete.
Stafford later amassed solid numbers in comeback mode, something that has been too regular an occurrence following his 2011 heroics. He’s yet to post a multi-touchdown game in 2012 (zero TD connections with Johnson) and now faces the dominant Seattle pass defense. The Seahawks have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks (five touchdown passes against six interceptions). Perhaps the home date helps to create a breakthrough game for Stafford, but I’m not expecting the physical Seattle cornerbacks to give an inch to Calvin Johnson. I’d circle Titus Young, Sr. and deep “Ninja” Ryan Broyles on my Week 8 cheatsheets. Stafford is a mid-QB2 this week.
Matt Ryan at PHI
You’re not going to bench Matt Ryan. I understand that. You’re looking at his 14 touchdown passes, 67.8% completion rate and 292.7 passing yards per game coming out of the Bye and eagerly awaiting his return to the field.
I just toss up a word of caution about the Philadelphia pass defense. The Eagles have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks (seven passing touchdowns in six games with seven interceptions). I stepped out on the proverbial ledge and picked the Eagles to end the Falcons’ unbeaten run. For that to happen, the vaunted Philadelphia secondary will need to contain the high-octane Atlanta passing game.