4:05PM ET Games
Detroit @ Denver
Tim Tebow finished his first start of 2011 with 23 standard-league fantasy points, 17 coming after the 5:23 mark in the fourth quarter. For the initial 54:37, the Broncos employed an extremely conservative run-oriented offense, generating scant ball movement with a 30:14 run-to-pass ratio. Shotgun-spread sets and an aggressive attack ensued in comeback mode, and Tebow capitalized to finish fifth among quarterbacks in Week 7 fantasy scoring. Just think how many points Tebow would have scored if the Broncos tailored the scheme to his talent for four quarters. Only time will tell whether old-school coach John Fox is philosophically capable of buying in, but the run-twice-and-pass-on-third-down approach is destined for failure because Tebow's elongated throwing motion makes him a sitting duck in a telegraphed game plan. It'd be an especially bad idea against Detroit's ferocious front four. Denver can be competitive and Tebow can flirt with top-five quarterback stats if the coaching staff lets it happen. ... The Broncos started Eric Decker and Eddie Royal in Week 7, but wound up using Demaryius Thomas on 45-of-77 snaps. Thomas was Tebow's favorite option, seeing a club-high 10 targets while Royal and TE Daniel Fells tied for second with four. If the Broncos do follow through with a spread-type offense (as they should), Thomas will be an every-down player. At this point, my money would be on Demaryius leading the Broncos in receiving the rest of the way.
Willis McGahee underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the fourth metacarpal in his right hand, a procedure the Denver Post expects to cost him at least two weeks. (Agent-driven reports insist the timetable is 1-2 weeks, but that is overly optimistic.) After McGahee went down, Moreno received five of the backfield's next seven touches compared to Lance Ball's two. Ball did close out the game with three straight overtime carries to set up Matt Prater's game-winning field goal, but Moreno projects as the Broncos' lead back. The Lions rank 28th in run defense and allow 5.03 yards per rushing attempt, so this is a favorable matchup to plug-and-play Moreno as an RB2. He won't struggle to flirt with 18 touches if the Broncos approach this game like they did last week's. ... Fox's staff seems to prefer Ball in short-yardage situations, suggesting he may get the goal-line carries if Tebow doesn't just punch it in himself. It's still hard to imagine considering Ball any more than a desperate flex option in this game. Moreno is the Broncos' fantasy running back to own.
The Lions started Maurice Morris against Atlanta last week, using him on 39-of-58 snaps (67.2%). Keiland Williams rotated in to start the second quarter, however, and the two finished with the same amount of carries (9). Williams played 18 snaps (31.0%). While Morris remains the lead back and favorite for all passing-down work, the backfield appears set up for a committee until Jahvid Best (concussion) returns. Denver's run defense has been better than given credit this year, allowing just 3.86 yards per rushing attempt. Neither Morris nor Williams can be considered better than a low-end flex play. ... Virtually all observers at Lions practice this week had positive things to say about Matthew Stafford, who moved around well on his supposedly injured ankle and will start Sunday. Based on all the information I've gathered, I'd feel good about considering Stafford close to or at 100 percent. I also feel very good about his matchup. RE Elvis Dumervil (ankle) is not expected to play Sunday, and Denver is brutal in pass coverage aside from Champ Bailey. Only the Colts are allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a higher passer rating on the season. Always a safe bet for two touchdown passes, Stafford remains a locked-and-loaded QB1.
Brandon Pettigrew had a down week (4-31) as Detroit's passing game stalled against the Falcons, but he still finished second on the Lions in targets and has played well enough to stay in lineups as a proven fantasy starter. Denver is juggling its lineup at safety, and Pettigrew could take over as the Lions' featured passing-game option if Bailey shuts down Calvin Johnson. ... The odds of that happening aren't good, of course. While Bailey did well to prevent Brandon Marshall from getting behind him last week, Megatron is an entirely different beast. You can't sit the No. 1 fantasy receiver regardless of matchup. ... Nate Burleson is on pace for 51 receptions and 508 yards. At this point, Burleson would need a Megatron or Pettigrew injury to be start-able in any given week. ... Titus Young hasn't exceeded 14 yards since Week 4, and his weekly yardage totals have been on a downslope since Week 2, bottoming out with a catch-less game against Atlanta. Like Burleson, Young would need something drastic to occur to be a fantasy starter.
Score Prediction: Lions 24, Broncos 21
Washington @ Buffalo
This game will be played in the friendly confines of Toronto's Rogers Centre, formerly known as SkyDome. Rogers Centre has a retractable roof, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will air it out in favorable conditions regardless of whether the stadium is domed. In last year's Toronto game, Fitzpatrick threw a season-high 51 times for 299 yards against a Bears defense that at the time was among the NFL's best. That doesn't make Fitzpatrick a desirable fantasy option, of course, but it's good to know his popgun arm won't be inhibited by weather. ... Deep threat Donald Jones (ankle) won't return this week, leaving David Nelson and Stevie Johnson as the best bets for targets on the Bills' side. DeAngelo Hall figures to be assigned to Johnson, which certainly isn't a prohibitive matchup for the Bills' No. 1 receiver. It's interesting to note that Nelson, when lined up out wide, will have an eight-inch, 23-pound size advantage on Redskins No. 2 CB Josh Wilson. Nelson has also continued to see action in the slot, where he'd face off with struggling slot CB Kevin Barnes.
When Nelson is outside, C.J. Spiller, Naaman Roosevelt, and Brad Smith will be candidates for inside receiver snaps. It's hard to imagine investing in the cluttered situation for fantasy purposes. Spiller is the best bet, but he's strictly a desperation option. ... The Redskins have a top-11 pass defense because OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan bring consistent pressure, and Hall and Wilson are effective outside corners. Run defense has been more of an issue for Washington, which is generously surrendering 4.61 yards per rushing attempt and an average of one rushing touchdown per game. The Panthers piled up 175 yards and two scores on 37 carries (4.73 YPC) against the Redskins last week. Fred Jackson is probably the favorite for fantasy MVP as we approach the season's halfway point and should continue to confidently be started as an RB1.
If a troublesome quarterback situation didn't already, top wide receiver Santana Moss' broken left hand needs to enlighten Redskins coaches that a run-heavy offense is their best, and perhaps only option going forward. Historically pass-happy playcaller Kyle Shanahan seemed to buy into that notion last week by running the ball on 16 of Washington's initial 24 offensive snaps. The game plan was scrapped when Carolina took an early third-quarter lead, and after Tim Hightower tore his ACL. Be it with "likely" starter Ryan Torain or Week 8 super sleeper Roy Helu, Shanahan must pick up where he left off in last week's first half, directly attacking a Bills defense that ranks 30th against the run and will be without Pro Bowl NT Kyle Williams (foot). Buffalo is serving up 5.12 yards per carry and has allowed eight rushing TDs in six games. Oh, who's going to get the carries? Your guess is as good as mine. I don't own Torain, so I'll be taking my chances with Helu in a flex spot. ... John Beck showed some moxie in his first start since 2007, with an ability to move the offense and pick up first downs. Without Moss, however, Beck's job just got much tougher. Even as bad as Buffalo's pass defense ranking may appear, Beck is only a low-end QB2.
Beck's target distribution through two appearances: Fred Davis 12, Jabar Gaffney 12, Terrence Austin 7, Anthony Armstrong 4, Niles Paul 2. ... Beck and Davis showed an excellent rapport with six connections for 80 yards and a touchdown in Week 7, and Davis will remain the Redskins' top bet for receiving production the rest of the way. In the Bills' past four games, they've allowed three touchdowns to tight ends and a five-catch, 71.5-yard weekly average. It's another nice matchup for Davis. ... Gaffney is a 31-year-old possession receiver, but he'll see enough targets and play with enough efficiency to be worth WR3 consideration in PPR leagues. He's certainly not a terrible option, as may have been the case were Moss healthy. ... Paul, Armstrong, and Austin are now vying for snaps and looks from Beck in what may be a committee approach at No. 2 receiver. The Skins could also insert rookie Leonard Hankerson at any moment. Avoid the situation in fantasy.
Score Prediction: Redskins 20, Bills 17
4:15PM ET Games
New England @ Pittsburgh
Pats-Steelers has Week 8's highest over/under (52), which should comfort Tom Brady owners as he takes on Pittsburgh's No. 1 pass defense. Brady has historically pummeled the Steelers. In the sides' last two meetings, he's completed 62-of-89 throws (69.7%) for 749 yards (8.42 YPA), seven TDs, and no INTs. With Aaron Rodgers on bye, I'd consider only Drew Brees, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton better Week 8 QBs. ... The Pats typically attack Pittsburgh with a wide-open spread, picking apart the most favorable defensive back-pass catcher matchups Brady can find. Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker are the two biggest matchup nightmares on New England's roster. Hernandez carries risk, though. He only played 11 snaps in last year's Steelers game, afterward revealing it was part of a game plan that went heavy on two-tight end sets with superior blockers Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski playing the vast majority of downs. Crump and Gronk were utilized to block LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the edges. Hernandez didn't catch a pass, while Gronkowski had three touchdowns. Of course, Bill Belichick can't be counted on to repeat a game plan, and Harrison (eye) isn't playing this time around. Both Hernandez and Gronkowski are elite TE1s. While the Steelers have blanketed outside receivers, they've allowed some of the biggest games of the season for Ed Dickson (5-59-1), Owen Daniels (5-69-1), and Jared Cook (4-59).
Steelers RCB Ike Taylor has been terrific all year but doesn't cover the slot, so don't look for him to be on Welker much. Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco -- assuming the latter even plays -- are more realistic candidates for Taylor's coverage. ... Keep in mind that New England posted a 43:24 pass-to-run ratio in last year's meeting with Pittsburgh, but still saw fit to give BenJarvus Green-Ellis 22 touches, which he took for 123 total yards. You want to play goal-line backs in games with high-scoring projections, and Law Firm remains the Patriots' best bet for carries in scoring position. ... Danny Woodhead and rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are off the fantasy radar this week. Ridley and Vereen don't get enough playing time, and Woodhead hasn't exceeded nine touches since the opener. He got the ball six times against Pittsburgh last season.
On paper, everything sets up well for Ben Roethlisberger in this game. New England is last in the league in pass defense, and Big Ben is red hot with a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio over the last three weeks. He's settling in an every-week QB1. ... Rashard Mendenhall took a backseat in the Week 7 game plan as the Steelers relied on a spread offense to attack Arizona's awful pass defense. It'd make sense for Pittsburgh to take a similar approach this week. Mendenhall owners need to be aware that playcaller Bruce Arians is a creative, forward-thinking offensive mind, and averse to running into a brick wall when an opponent is more vulnerable elsewhere. It won't always end well for Mendenhall. In last year's game against the Patriots, Mendenhall finished with 11 carries for 50 scoreless yards and two receptions. Mendenhall needs to be trotted out in fantasy leagues every single week, but his usage and production may be inconsistent because of game flow and plan.
You'd have to think Arians knows it because it's so evident on game tape: The Steelers' offense is exponentially more explosive when Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders make up the three-receiver set. With Hines Ward nursing an ankle sprain on the sideline last week, 60 Minutes (3-118-1), Brown (7-102), and Sanders (5-46-1) unloaded on Arizona in a fast-paced, up-tempo aerial assault. Ward promises to be available against the Pats, but he may not play much. Brown and Sanders should both be thought of as desirable bye-week WR3s, and I'd be hard pressed to not rank Wallace as this week's top fantasy receiver play. The Patriots are allowing an average of 6.2 completions of 20-plus yards per game. The Cards just so happen to be second in that statistic, but with a distant 5.0 average of 20-yard pass plays surrendered. ... Heath Miller was recommended in this space last week because of a favorable matchup, but this one doesn't stack up as well. New England is much stronger at safety than Arizona, and the Patriots have held Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, and Dustin Keller to an average of 18.3 yards this season.
UPDATE: NFL Network's Albert Breer was in Pittsburgh all week, covering the events leading up to this game. Breer reported Friday night that Ward is "highly unlikely" to play against the Patriots. Sanders and Wallace will be the starting receivers with Brown playing in all three-wide sets.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Steelers 23