1:00PM ET Games
New Orleans @ St. Louis
The Saints are destined for rushing success against a St. Louis defense that ranks 32nd versus the run, permits a league-most 5.49 yards per carry, and was just gashed for what I'd wager goes down as DeMarco Murray's career-best game. The notion is reinforced by Brian De La Puente's stark upgrade at center. Whereas Saints backs managed 247 yards and one rushing touchdown on 67 carries (3.69 average) with now-retired Olin Kreutz on the field, the stats leap to 595 yards and six scores on 112 attempts (5.31 YPC) with De La Puente playing. ... As noted by Chris Wesseling this week, Murray gashed St. Louis for well over 50% of his Week 7 yardage on pitch plays and draws. The Rams are old and slow at outside linebacker and safety, and were always going to be vulnerable to runs that get backs in space. Darren Sproles is the Saints' preferred option on these playcalls. Sproles is averaging over 88 total yards a week with five touchdowns in seven games. In a matchup perfectly suited for Sproles, he's a top-15 running back play and legit RB1 in PPR. ... With Mark Ingram (heel) out for Week 8, both Sproles and Pierre Thomas project to receive boosts in touches and snaps played, because Chris Ivory isn't going to be ready for much work after just three days of practice coming off the PUP list. Sproles routinely gets the ball more in the red zone than Thomas, but the latter is still a must-start RB2 in this matchup.
Jimmy Graham has either a TD or 100 yards in 6-of-7 games. The hapless Rams won't stop him. ... Drew Brees is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback, leading the league in passing yards and attempts while completing a career-high 70.9% of his throws. With Aaron Rodgers on a bye and Tom Brady at Pittsburgh, there isn't a better Week 8 QB play than Brees. ... Breaking his collarbone in Week 1 may have been a veiled blessing for Marques Colston because it allowed his surgically repaired knee to heal completely. Colston struggled with the knee in camp. He's been unstoppable since being re-promoted to a full-time player, hauling in 14 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. Colston is fearless in traffic. Let's not forget that this is his contract year. ... With Colston, Graham, and Sproles dominating targets, the Saints' other wideouts have become totally unreliable fantasy commodities. Colston, Graham, and Sproles have been the intended receivers on 53-of-80 (66.3%) Brees throws over the past two games. Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, and Devery Henderson have 15 combined targets (18.8%) over that span, none topping four in either week. Their playing time has also been incredibly inconsistent and unpredictable. It'd be a complete roll of the dice to use any of the three this week, even with the great matchup.
While it's not hard to imagine the Saints grabbing a big lead and forcing St. Louis into pass-heavy comeback mode, Steven Jackson is playing too well to sit. He showed impressive acceleration on a second-quarter 40-yard burst up the middle in Week 7, polishing off the drive with a six-yard touchdown on the next play. S-Jax has at least 21 touches in three straight games. The Saints' vulnerability is run defense, allowing the second most yards per rushing attempt (5.36) in the NFL. ... As expected, the Rams immediately featured Brandon Lloyd in his St. Louis debut last week. He saw a team-high 12 targets, hauling in six for 74 yards. It's impressive production considering A.J. Feeley was playing quarterback. ... Danario Alexander started at flanker and was targeted six times to rank second on the team, but only secured two for nine yards. Alexander may miss this game with a hamstring strain, leaving the Rams' No. 2 receiver job up for grabs. Brandon Gibson was a healthy scratch last week. Lloyd is the lone Rams receiver worth using in fantasy leagues, regardless of Sam Bradford's (ankle) status. And all signs point to Feeley making another start.
Score Prediction: Saints 38, Rams 17
Minnesota @ Carolina
Adrian Peterson owners concerned a rookie quarterback might make life even tougher on their top-three fantasy pick couldn't have been more pleased with Christian Ponder's debut, in what appeared an impossible matchup with the defending Super Bowl champs. The Vikings tailored their offense around Ponder's athleticism, getting him outside the pocket on rollouts and boots. What Peterson owners should hope for is improved ball movement in the post-Donovan McNabb era, and Ponder delivered by converting 22 first downs, the Vikings' second highest total of the season, as well as a year-best 56.3% third-down conversion rate (9-of-16). Green Bay entered Week 7 ranked fifth in run defense. After Peterson was through with them (24-175-1), the Packers dropped to ninth. The over/under on Peterson's Week 8 rushing yardage should probably approach 200. Peterson is already benefiting from improved quarterback play, and the Panthers rank 29th against the run. No NFL defense has allowed more rushing scores or 20-yard runs.
Ponder's updated target distribution this season: Michael Jenkins 12, Visanthe Shiancoe 9, Devin Aromashodu 7, Percy Harvin 5. ... Harvin's (ribs) targets have been affected by his inability to stay on the field. He's played 47-of-132 snaps (35.6%) in the past two games. While a better passing attack can only help his long-range production, I'd want to see Harvin play four quarters effectively before inserting him into my own lineup. ... Jenkins set a career high with 111 yards in Week 7, gaining 65% of them on the game's first play when he caught Tramon Williams off guard for a 72-yard bomb. In Week 8, Molasses Mike can expect to see plenty of Panthers shadow CB Chris Gamble. Per Pro Football Focus, Gamble has allowed just 8-of-25 passes (32%) to be completed against him this year for 84 yards (3.4 YPA) and one touchdown. ... Aromashodu has a better matchup than Jenkins, squaring off with Captain Munnerlyn. A starter now with Wide Deceiver Bernard Berrian sent packing, it'd still be nice to see Aromashodu put something substantial in a box score before using him in fantasy. ... Carolina has allowed an average of seven catches for 100 yards to tight ends over the past three weeks, including two touchdowns. Shiancoe is coming off his best effort of the year (4-45-1), but keep an eye on his foot injury leading up to game time. He’s certainly got an attractive matchup.
This is a sneaky shootout game with neither defense playing particularly well. Such a scenario would benefit Cam Newton, whose matchup improved when the Vikings suspended LCB Chris Cook for felony domestic assault. Cook was emerging as Minnesota's top corner, and slot CB Antoine Winfield's (neck) status is still shaky. The Panthers probably won't have rushing success against the NFL's No. 4 run defense, instead being forced to lean on Newton to generate ball movement. Newton, of course, can already wing it with the best of them, and Minnesota ranked 29th in pass defense even before Cook's loss. Save perhaps Drew Brees, there isn't a stronger Week 8 fantasy quarterback than 2011's surefire NFL Rookie of the Year. ... Opposing No. 1 receivers have dusted the Vikings for five touchdowns in the past five games, to go with a six-catch, 104-yard average. Steve Smith will end up seeing quite a bit of Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen in this game, and both have been burned throughout the season. Smith leads the league in receiving yards and 20-yard receptions, so you already knew to start him as a top-three WR1.
It's been mentioned repeatedly in this space, and the Panthers' coaching staff may have finally realized it: Jonathan Stewart is the Carolina's best running back, and it's not close. Stewart has quietly played more snaps than Williams in every game since Week 1, and in Week 7 J-Stew received more carries for the first time since Week 2. While Stewart and Williams are no better than flex options in this difficult matchup, the former has far and away emerged as the Panthers' fantasy back to own. Averaging 6.18 yards per touch to Williams' 5.07, Stewart will be the primary runner the rest of the way if the coaches are serious about fielding their best possible lineup. A changing of the guard may have already occurred in scoring position. Stewart has eight red-zone touches over the past two games, compared to Williams' three. Stewart's edges in playing time and usage inside opposing 20-yard lines suggest the Panthers have determined he's their best option in critical situations. ... Brandon LaFell scored a Week 7 touchdown, but hasn't cleared 50 yards since the opener and can't break free from his rotation with Legedu Naanee. While Cook and Winfield’s likely absences increase LaFell’s appeal this week, it will be an unreliable situation until something changes. ... The Vikings are permitting an average of over six catches for 57 yards to tight ends this season. Against Minnesota's Cover-2 defense, Greg Olsen should be in for a bounce-back game. He's off this week's injury report after being limited last week with a mild case of turf toe.
Score Prediction: Panthers 30, Vikings 20
Arizona @ Baltimore
Arizona has faced enough bad QBs to keep its pass defense ranking above 32nd, but I'd take the lower-rated units of Minnesota, Buffalo, Green Bay, and New England over the Cards' pass rush-secondary combo in a heartbeat. While the Cardinals have seen only the 19th most pass attempts against, they've managed to allow the third most completions of 20-plus yards in football. The Steelers recognized Arizona's pitiful back-end play and attacked in Week 7, using frequent spread sets to finish with a 39:27 run-to-pass ratio despite grabbing an early 14-0 lead. Even for as poorly as Joe Flacco has played, this is a matchup that should get him back on track. The Ravens face Pittsburgh's top-rated pass defense in Week 9, so they should feel pressure to reenergize their passing attack in an easy matchup before the key division game. ... As alluded to above, Arizona is extremely vulnerable to long passing plays. Their oversized corners struggle to turn and run with wideouts, and FS Kerry Rhodes' (broken foot) loss is devastating in deep coverage. If you're looking for a WR3 with upside, Torrey Smith is your man. He butters his bread with the long ball, and has exhibited improved short-to-intermediate route running skills since the Week 6 bye.
Anquan Boldin has struggled to create separation since the Ravens traded for him a year and a half ago, but he's put 12 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown in the box score over his last two games. This is the first time Boldin has faced his old team since the trade, so motivation won't be a problem. ... Ray Rice's 13 touches and 63 scoreless yards were disappointing at Jacksonville in Week 7, but the Ravens are sure to get him the ball more this Sunday. Arizona has allowed eight rushing touchdowns in six games. Rice is still a top-six back in fantasy points per game and an every-week starter. ... Ed Dickson hasn't scored since the season opener and is averaging under 38 yards per week. He's not a recommended bye-week option despite a favorable matchup.
The Cardinals will struggle to score in this game, and not just because Baltimore's defense allows both the fewest points and yards in the league. Beanie Wells' (knee) absence will render Arizona's offense one-dimensional, and the Kevin Kolb-led passing game has done nothing that suggests it can move the ball against mediocre opponents, much less a top-four pass defense. I'd avoid Kolb, Early Doucet, and Arizona's tight ends. ... In spite of Kolb's struggles, Larry Fitzgerald ranks 16th in per-game fantasy points among wideouts and needs to continue to be played with confidence. The Ravens don't usually put brackets on receivers because FS Ed Reed roams freely in center field and SS Bernard Pollard either covers tight ends or plays in the box. Fitz is the lone Arizona skill player worth serious Week 8 fantasy consideration. ... The Cardinals will use "a little bit of back-by-committee" approach to replace Wells, coach Ken Whisenhunt has confirmed. Chester Taylor will come off the game-day inactives list to split early-down work with Alfonso Smith, while LaRod Stephens-Howling plays the Darren Sproles role on passing downs. None of the above is likely to exceed 15 touches, making it a situation to avoid against the AFC's premier run defense.
UPDATE: Wells increased his practice participation Friday and now has a chance to play against the Ravens. On Friday evening, reliable beat reporter Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic suggested Wells will be on a carry count in the toughest matchup he'll face all year. If I were a Wells owner, I'd have him on my bench hoping he's declared inactive, uses the time off to get healthier, and resumes a full workload next week against the Rams.
Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Cardinals 13