Jacksonville @ Houston
Arian Foster busted his two-game slump for a whopping 234 total yards and three touchdowns in Week 7, obliterating a previously stout Titans run defense. The Texans have smartly expanded Foster's passing-game role, and he's capitalized with a 96-yard receiving average alone over the past three weeks. In two career meetings with Jacksonville, Foster has poured on three scores and 250 all-purpose yards. He's the most valuable fantasy player in football today. ... Ben Tate racked up 104 yards on 15 carries in Week 7, but keep in mind that the vast majority of his production came in garbage time of Houston's 41-7, blowout win. Specifically, 11 of Tate's runs and 88 of his yards occurred after the Texans built a 27-0 lead. Tate is an excellent young player and might be the NFL's best No. 2 back, but he's a handcuff. ... Andre Johnson (hamstring) will be a game-time decision. His availability would greatly affect the start-ability of Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter, rendering Jones a backup and Walter a low-end WR3. As this is being written, my best guess is that the Texans will give Johnson one more week. But if he's active Sunday, start him.
UPDATE: Kubiak ruled out Johnson on Friday. Jones and Walter will be the Texans' starting receivers Sunday.
It's a notion difficult to grasp because we've seen so many years of pitiful Jaguars secondary play, but it's become a recurring theme in this space: Jacksonville fields a legitimately strong pass defense. Now ranked sixth against the pass, the Jags shut down Joe Flacco last Monday, keyed by a dynamite performance from RE Jeremy Mincey and aggressive press coverage. So far this year, Jacksonville has held Flacco, Cam Newton, and Ben Roethlisberger to a combined 51-of-95 (53.7%) passing for 495 yards (5.21 YPA), and three touchdowns in three games. Neither Flacco, Newton, nor Big Ben has topped 200 yards. Jacksonville's lone hiccup was a 351-yard passing day surrendered to Drew Brees in Week 4, but the Jags picked off Brees twice and held the Saints to 23 points. This is a concern for Matt Schaub, who remains more of a borderline fantasy starter than top-ten signal caller. ... Owen Daniels has skyrocketed to No. 7 in the fantasy tight end rankings with at least 71 yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games, the lone outlier being a double team-heavy effort in Baltimore two weeks ago. His burst all the way back from debilitating 2009-2010 knee injuries, Daniels is averaging a career-high 13.1 yards per catch.
Blaine Gabbert looks the part at 6-foot-4 with terrific arm strength and athleticism, but he is deathly afraid of contact. It shows up whenever Gabbert has a defender closing in on him, be it inside or outside of the pocket. This isn't just a long-term concern for Jacksonville; it's a terrible combination with their current crop of wide receivers, who struggle to create separation. Gabbert's accuracy tanks when he's constantly making throws off his back foot, and the Jaguars’ wideouts are prone to drops because they can't find a rhythm. (And aren't any good.) The Texans' defense is banged up, but there won't be a member of Jacksonville's passing game worth using in fantasy leagues until proven otherwise. ... The Jaguars' offensive woes will likely prevent Maurice Jones-Drew from finishing as a top-12 fantasy back, but he's having a marvelous season all things considered. Still a top-14 runner in fantasy points per game, Jones-Drew is averaging 4.57 yards a carry and last week topped 100 rushing yards against a Ravens defense that hadn't allowed an opposing back to reach the century mark since Week 14 last season. MJD is an every-week RB2.
Score Prediction: Texans 21, Jaguars 10
Miami @ NY Giants
The Giants return from a bye with restored health on offense, particularly in the front five. RG Chris Snee has been medically cleared from a concussion, and C David Baas is past his lingering "burner." This is great news for New York's interior run blocking, which has been inconsistent all year. Brandon Jacobs is also due back after a two-game knee injury, but let's not get carried away calling the Giants' backfield a true "committee." When Ahmad Bradshaw and Jacobs have both been active for games -- a four-week sample size -- Bradshaw is averaging 17.5 touches for 87 yards. Jacobs may be the slight favorite for goal-line work, but averages just 44 yards on 10 touches a game. Both have scored three touchdowns. While Jacobs' week-to-week fantasy value will depend on short-yardage scores, Bradshaw remains the Giants' clear-cut lead running back. The Dolphins rank 18th against the run, so think of Bradshaw as a rock-solid RB2 in Week 8. Jacobs is a flex consideration only in non-PPR leagues. He'll hurt you if he doesn't find pay dirt.
Since a rough opener, Eli Manning has turned it on with an 11:4 TD-to-INT ratio and 302-yard average in his last five games. There's always a chance that Bad Eli might show, but working in his favor is a 21st-ranked Dolphins pass defense that has played well in just 1-of-6 games -- last week's loss to Tim Tebow. Miami has permitted a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio against. Eli is a quality, if low-end QB1 this week. ... Hakeem Nicks plays most of his snaps on the offensive left, leaving him likely to see RCB Sean Smith for the majority of the day. Nicks has at least 96 yards and/or a touchdown in eight of his last nine games. ... During the Week 7 bye, playcaller Kevin Gilbride indicated that slot man Victor Cruz will remain behind Mario Manningham in the pecking order for the foreseeable future, pointing to poor routes and a back-breaking Week 5 fumble that foreshadowed his reduced Week 6 role. Mario stands to benefit as an every-week WR3 moving forward with breakout potential for the stretch run. This week, top Dolphins CB Vontae Davis’ expected absence due to an aggravated hamstring injury could easily result in Manningham’s slump-buster. Seventh-round rookie Jimmy Wilson will start. ... Jake Ballard caught only 34 passes during his college career and went undrafted out of Ohio State two Aprils ago. While he's performed better than anyone could've imagined this season, ultimately Ballard offers very low upside and can get caught on the line blocking for long stretches.
Struggling recently, I'd feel better about using Daniel Thomas if Giants LE Justin Tuck (neck) is out of this week's lineup. In Tuck's two games played this year, the G-Men have allowed opposing tailbacks to rush for 187 yards and one score on 48 carries (3.89 YPC). In four games without Tuck, running backs have 94 attempts for 472 yards (5.02 YPC) and six rushing touchdowns. ... Despite handing the feature back job to Thomas, the Dolphins have tried to keep Reggie Bush involved with at least 10 carries in four straight games. Bush just isn't getting enough yardage to be more than a desperation flex play. He hasn't scored a touchdown since the opener, and his PPR value is way down with a measly eight receptions in his last five games. ... Piggybacking on last week's stat, Matt Moore is now 134-of-236 passing (56.8%) for 1,425 yards (6.04 YPA), six touchdowns, and 13 interceptions with 21 sacks taken in his last nine appearances. His teams are 1-8. ... Moore's target distribution on the season: Brandon Marshall 31, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline 12, Anthony Fasano 7. ... Marshall has settled in as more of a WR2 than top-ten fantasy receiver, but has what should be a favorable matchup with CB Corey Webster. The Giants assign Webster to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers, but his coverage has always been hit or miss. ... Bess is coming off his best game of the season, leading the Dolphins in targets (12) and catches (7). He still hasn't topped 52 receiving yards since Week 1 or scored a touchdown all year.
UPDATE: Thomas was ruled out for Week 8 after aggravating his hamstring injury. Bush will likely lead the Dolphins in touches this week, but is a low-end flex option in fantasy leagues. Lex Hilliard may vulture a goal-line score, if the Fins generate any ball movement Sunday. I wouldn't bet on it.
Score Prediction: Giants 24, Dolphins 13
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
The Titans' passing game has slowed considerably since a fast start, but a date with Indy's easy-to-burn defense may be what the doctor ordered for Matt Hasselbeck. In their past three games, the Colts have been pummeled by Matt Cassel, Andy Dalton, and Drew Brees for a combined 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 846 yards on 96 throws (8.8 YPA), and a 80.2 completion rate. Hasselbeck isn't a QB1 and won't be the rest of the way, but he's certainly worth a two-QB league play. ... Nate Washington's numbers have slumped with Hasselbeck's, and last week the Titans' nominal No. 1 receiver was nearly zeroed out of the box score by Texans CB Johnathan Joseph, finishing with one reception for 10 yards. While Washington has flopped since Kenny Britt blew out his knee (47.3-yard average), he's a respectable WR3 in this matchup. Tennessee is likely to have passing success, and Washington is the best bet on the roster for a steady heaping of targets.
Jared Cook doesn't get the ball or play enough for consistent fantasy usage, but he's one of the stronger TE2s going because he possesses playmaking talent. Cook caught another touchdown in Week 7 and has scored in two of his last three games. He's averaging 17.7 yards per reception, a clip that leads all AFC tight ends with more than 10 catches. You could do worse in a bye-week crunch. ... Possession receiver Damian Williams is the Titans' least desirable fantasy player. He's cleared 20 yards in 1-of-6 games and is averaging just 9.9 yards per ball caught. ... The Titans' Week 6 bye did nothing to kick start Chris Johnson, so owners just have to hope running back-friendly matchups turn him around. The Colts rank 31st against the run and are surrendering 5.28 yards per carry to tailbacks over the last month. Johnson's numbers are much more ordinary than his name and contract suggest when extrapolated over the last 16 games. During that span, Johnson's rushing line is 270-1,036-5. And he's obviously reached an entirely new low this year.
After playing passably in his first three starts, Curtis Painter took four steps back in Week 7 at New Orleans. Painter went 9-of-17 for 68 yards and a pick six before being mercifully benched for Dan Orlovsky in the fourth quarter of the historic, 62-7 loss. Painter will keep his job, but can't be trusted in fantasy leagues until he strings together at least two reasonably well-played games. ... Even with Tennessee's defense tanking lately, it's going to take serious cajones to bet on Colts pass catchers this week. Here's an update on Painter's target distribution for the year, in case you're willing to take that leap: Pierre Garcon 33, Reggie Wayne 25, Austin Collie 18, Dallas Clark 16. ... It's clear by now that Garcon is Painter's favorite receiver, ahead of the declining Wayne, little-used Collie, and fantasy non-factor Clark. NFL Network's Sterling Sharpe called out Wayne on Playbook this week for rounding off his routes. Sharpe suggested Wayne has already called it a season. ... The winless Colts inexplicably rushed Joseph Addai back from a hamstring strain in Week 7, and he aggravated the injury in the game's first quarter. I don't think Addai will play in Nashville, though I would've said the same last week. Regardless of Addai's status, Delone Carter will be the best fantasy option in Indianapolis' backfield after finally running with some confidence and purpose against the Saints. Carter now has a touchdown in 2-of-3 games and is coming off a 10-carry, 89-yard performance that figures to earn him a bigger role going forward.
UPDATE: Just like last week, Addai returned to a full practice Friday and is now expected to play against the Titans. It's hard to imagine trusting any member of the Colts' backfield, but my lean would still be toward Carter if forced to pick one.
Score Prediction: Titans 20, Colts 17