Stewart, Shorts lead flex plays
Fortunately for owners, few significant players are out of action this week as the byes go to the 49ers, Jets, Patriots and Rams. Outside of the Patriots skill players, the toughest losses to overcome will be Frank Gore, Shonn Greene and the San Francisco defense/special teams. Having the Rams and Jets on bye the same week is a nice belated Halloween treat for fantasy owners, as they provide no sure starters outside of Greene, who only recently has looked that way.
That means it's not a week in which we have to dig too deep for those QB2s and flex starters. By this point in the season the stronger matchup plays are becoming more apparent on a weekly basis, but it's also important to follow recent trends, as there are always teams whose first half of the year is a bit of a mirage. A good example of this is the Vikings defense. Through six games the Vikings were great against the run, not allowing a 100-yard rusher, and allowed just two passers to top 250 yards. The last two weeks, though, they've let LaRod Stephens-Howling and Doug Martin rack up more than 360 total yards and three scores in their building while also letting John Skelton and Josh Freeman each top 250 passing. They are on the downslide along with the Packers and Chargers defenses, both of which are fading after strong starts.
In the next three-week stretch that concludes the bye schedule, it's pivotal to find those best defensive matchups while playing your top talent. These weeks will make or break the playoffs for many, so be aware of rising players (see Jonathan Stewart and Darrius Heyward-Bey below) and take advantage of defenses that are bleeding yards. If you have not done so already, reassess who truly is your best talent and use that as a guide to help make starting decisions. Although it may not be this weekend, there are definitely weeks in which benching players like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson might be the prudent thing to do.
1. Daniel Thomas at Indianapolis - Reggie Bush likely will still lead the way for the Miami backfield, but it is worth noting that Thomas has gotten more of the goal-line opportunities recently, cashing in a short score in three of his last four games. Furthermore, after seeing Thomas record more carries than Bush for the first time this season when both backs were healthy, it seems this backfield is becoming more of a timeshare than expected.
2. Andre Roberts at Green Bay - With John Skelton at quarterback the last two weeks Roberts has seen 20 combined targets and racked up 14 catches for 168 yards and a score. Now he'll get to take a shot at a banged-up Packers defense that just allowed Blaine Gabbert to top 300 yards for the first time in his young career and gave up 116 receiving yards to Cecil Shorts. The Cardinals likely will have to throw a ton to keep pace with the Packers' prolific offense, and assuming Larry Fitzgerald draws double coverage most of the game, Roberts should remain a favorite option for Skelton.
3. Jonathan Stewart at Washington - As good as the 10th-ranked Redskins run defense has been at limiting yards (just 92.1 allowed per game), it's still allowed at least 100 total yards or a touchdown to an opposing running back in every game this season. And the Redskins just gave up their first 100-yard rushing performance to bruising back Jonathan Dwyer. With Stewart finally getting his shot to be more of a feature back, the former 1,000-yard rusher may make it consecutive Jonathan's to top 100 on the Skins.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Tampa Bay - DHB has at least 85 yards or a score in back-to-back games, and though he was targeted just three times last week that was more a product of the Chiefs having a miserable run defense and Oakland playing with a lead the whole game. Against a Tampa team that's much stiffer versus the run and could well build a lead behind a suddenly explosive offense, expect the Raiders to throw more often on the 30th-ranked pass defense. Denarius Moore's recent string of good games will bring DHB less attention from the defense but possibly the more targeted option for Carson Palmer.
5. Cecil Shorts vs. Detroit - If Matthew Stafford can throw for more than 350 yards and three touchdowns on the smothering Seattle secondary it seems safe to say he's back. That means the Lions should get a lead and force the Jaguars to lean on Blaine Gabbert's arm while playing from behind. Shorts, who's seen 22 targets the last two weeks and totaled 195 yards and a touchdown, looks like the default No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville. Riding him now while he's making the most of it is the savvy move.
6. Ryan Broyles at Jacksonville - Just watch the highlight of Broyles' touchdown catch against the Seahawks if the idea of starting him doesn't sit well. He made a fantastic play on a poorly thrown ball by Matthew Stafford and had the presence of mind to turn and immediately find the pylon. Although he was shown up by Titus Young's big day and saw only five targets, Broyles has proven himself to be a tremendous slot receiver the last two weeks and will only get better with each game. When the Jags have their hands full focusing on Calvin Johnson and Young, don't be surprised if Broyles puts up good numbers.
WEEK 8 FLEX-PLAY RANKINGS *Check injury status.
1. Arian Foster HOU vs. Buf
2. LeSean McCoy PHI at NO
3. Ray Rice BAL at Cle
4. Demaryius Thomas DEN at Cin
5. A.J. Green CIN vs. Den
6. Victor Cruz NYG vs. Pit
7. Matt Forte CHI at Ten
8. Doug Martin TB at Oak
9. Reggie Bush MIA at Ind
10. Ryan Mathews SD vs. KC - Got the majority of the carries even after losing a fumble in the first quarter.
11. *Calvin Johnson DET at Jac - 'Plowing through' a knee injury and will likely miss practice time this week.
12. Brandon Marshall CHI at Ten
13. Marques Colston NO vs. Phi
14. Reggie Wayne IND vs. Mia
15. Denarius Moore OAK vs. TB - When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Down goes Bowe, up goes Moore.
16. Steve Smith CAR at Was
17. C.J. Spiller BUF at Hou
18. *Trent Richardson CLE vs. Bal - Ribs tested out just fine after all last week.
19. Adrian Peterson MIN at Sea
20. Alfred Morris WAS vs. Car
21. Andre Johnson HOU vs. Buf
22. Mike Wallace PIT at NYG
23. Miles Austin DAL at Atl
24. Percy Harvin MIN at Sea
25. Roddy White ATL vs. Dal
26. Jimmy Graham NO vs. Phi
27. Jason Witten DAL at Atl - Monster game last week in PPR leagues (actually pretty good even in standard scoring leagues), with 18 catches on a whopping 22 targets.
28. Willis McGahee DEN at Cin - One fumble last week was the only blemish on an otherwise great game.
29. Darren McFadden OAK vs. TB - Finally had his first 100-yard game against the Chiefs last week.
30. Jamaal Charles KC at SD - Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel 'wasn't quite sure' why Charles received only five carries in the loss to the Raiders. I have no words that elaborate on that.
31. Marshawn Lynch SEA vs. Min
32. Julio Jones ATL vs. Dal
33. *DeSean Jackson PHI at NO - Briefly left due to an ankle injury last week but later returned.
34. Vincent Jackson TB at Oak
35. Randall Cobb GB vs. Ari
36. Torrey Smith BAL at Cle
37. Hakeem Nicks NYG vs. Pit
38. Steve Johnson BUF at Hou
39. Tony Gonzalez ATL vs. Dal
40. Owen Daniels HOU vs. Buf
41. Heath Miller PIT at NYG
42. Ahmad Bradshaw NYG vs. Pit
43. Fred Jackson BUF at Hou
44. Darren Sproles NO vs. Phi
45. Mikel Leshoure DET at Jac
46. Rashad Jennings JAC vs. Det - Good all-purpose yards, but one costly fumble.
47. Dwayne Bowe KC at SD - Just six targets against the Raiders last week. Apparently the team thought it was a great idea to go away from their best threats.
48. James Jones GB vs. Ari
49. Jeremy Maclin PHI at NO
50. Larry Fitzgerald ARZ at GB
51. Chris Johnson TEN vs. Chi
52. Michael Turner ATL vs. Dal
53. BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN vs. Den
54. Felix Jones DAL at Atl - Touchdown carry alleviated an otherwise miserable game.
55. Santana Moss WAS vs. Car
56. Titus Young DET at Jac - Coming off his biggest game of his career (nine catches, 100 yards, two touchdowns.).
57. Eric Decker DEN at Cin
58. *Dez Bryant DAL at Atl - Hurt his hip in the loss to the Cowboys and was on the field for just one of the final three plays following his 'fingertip' play.
59. Golden Tate SEA vs. Min
60. Mike Williams TB at Oak
61. Lance Moore NO vs. Phi
62. Antonio Brown PIT at NYG
63. Brent Celek PHI at NO
64. Jermaine Gresham CIN vs. Den
65. LaRod Stephens-Howling ARZ at GB - Completely stuffed by the Niners early on, pushing the Cardinals to give up on the run completely.
66. *Alex Green GB vs. Ari - Averaging just 2.4 yards per carry since getting named the starter, but will remain in the role.
67. Jonathan Stewart CAR at Was
68. *Jonathan Dwyer PIT at NYG - Quad injury, won't practice Wednesday.
69. Vick Ballard IND vs. Mia - Got the game-winning touchdown, but Brown had two more carries.
70. Ronnie Hillman DEN at Cin - Big effort against the Saints - 86 yards on 14 carries. Not a bad matchup this week, either.
71. Sidney Rice SEA vs. Min
72. Malcom Floyd SD vs. KC
73. Cecil Shorts JAC vs. Det
74. Brandon LaFell CAR at Was
75. Andre Roberts ARZ at GB
76. Nate Washington TEN vs. Chi
77. Josh Gordon CLE vs. Bal
78. Anquan Boldin BAL at Cle
79. Brian Hartline MIA at Ind
80. Andrew Hawkins CIN vs. Den
81. Antonio Gates SD vs. KC
82. Jacob Tamme DEN at Cin
83. Greg Olsen CAR at Was
84. *Brandon Pettigrew DET at Jac - Seven catches for 74 yards despite a bad knee last week.
85. Pierre Thomas NO vs. Phi
86. Andre Brown NYG vs. Pit
87. *Justin Forsett HOU vs. Buf - Should be the primary backup behind Arian Foster.
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