Washington @ Pittsburgh
He's playing the Steelers. And you still start him. Matchup-proof rookie Robert Griffin III is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback, and he's coming off another insanely productive week that could've been even bigger. Griffin had a first-quarter 35-yard rocket-ball touchdown called back on an "illegal shift” against the Giants, and Leonard Hankerson should have secured Griffin's well-placed 55-yard bomb in the third quarter. His lone miscue came on a late third-quarter pick where TE Logan Paulsen inexplicably stopped on a route. "He hangs in the pocket and delivers the football," FOX color commentator Troy Aikman said of Griffin. "I've been very impressed by him." RG3's running plays keep making highlight reels, but pinpoint accuracy remains the most underappreciated aspect of his game. On the same field as the G-Men, Griffin was a noticeably more accurate thrower than two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning. ... Pittsburgh is playing top-ten run defense again this year. But as we've explained repeatedly in this space before, the zone-run game is matchup-proof when it's clicking. It is clicking in D.C. Alfred Morris has twice faced top-ten run defenses in 2012, and he's tagged them for a combined 202 yards and a score on 37 carries, good for an explosive average of 5.46 YPC. It's also no secret that 3-4 defenses like the Steelers' tend to struggle against zone blocks.
Continuing to fill in for Pierre Garcon (foot), Hankerson was the Redskins' receiver most often open in last week's loss to the Giants. He led Washington in targets (8), catches (6), and yards (70), and will remain the team's best bet for receiving stats until Garcon returns. Hankerson does have a difficult Week 8 matchup with Steelers RCB Ike Taylor, who shut down A.J. Green in Week 7. ... Santana Moss took to the house a well-blocked 26-yard screen and basket-caught Griffin's bucket throw for a go-ahead touchdown in last week's loss. He also lost the game-ending fumble. Ultimately, Moss was targeted four times and continues to be a bit player in Shanahan & Son's offense, seeing action on just 17-of-71 snaps (24 percent) versus the G-Men. Moss would not be a strong WR3 at Pittsburgh. ... Griffin's target distribution when Garcon misses games this season: Hankerson 21, Fred Davis 17, Moss and Morgan 14, Paulsen and Aldrick Robinson 7. ... With Davis done for the year, the Skins figure to turn to a three-tight end rotation of Paulsen, Niles Paul, and newly re-signed Chris Cooley. You'll be hard pressed to find fantasy value in that group. ... Morgan has been an efficient possession guy for the Shanahans, securing 18 of the 22 passes thrown his way. Unfortunately, Morgan doesn't score touchdowns and averages 31 yards a game.
Here were Greg Cosell's comments this week on Jonathan Dwyer: "I thought he ran well last week. I don't know what they want his weight to be; he just looks like he's a few pounds heavy. ... He strikes me as a guy who, if he lost a few pounds, could be even quicker. Because I think he's got naturally quick feet." While Cosell's observations weren't overflowing with rose-colored praise, the attribute of quick feet is a necessity for 235-plus-pound running backs. Dwyer is coming off a 17-carry, 122-yard game against the Bengals' No. 21 run defense. The Skins have a top-seven run-defending group, but the workload should be there for Dwyer with Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) out one more week. Dwyer is an attractive Week 8 flex play. ... Rookie scatback Chris Rainey took a rare handoff out of a traditional run formation last week and scooted through a gaping hole for his 11-yard score. While Rainey has great speed and some playmaking ability, he doesn't get the football enough for fantasy use. ... Dwyer doesn't play in the passing game much, and was replaced by a combo of Rainey and Baron Batch on third downs against Cincinnati. Batch dropped a would-be touchdown and got two touches on offense. With third-down specialist Isaac Redman (ankle) on his way back, Batch is even further off the fantasy radar than Rainey.
Ultimately, the Steelers should enjoy the bulk of their offensive success in the pass game Sunday. Washington ranks 32nd in pass defense and is tied for the NFL lead in TD throws allowed. Fire up Ben Roethlisberger as a mid-range QB1. ... Desperate for answers in the secondary, Redskins DC Jim Haslett has mixed and matched coverage assignments the past few weeks. In this game, I think we'll see DeAngelo Hall follow Antonio Brown around the offensive formation while Josh Wilson mirrors Mike Wallace. Both Brown and Wallace have highly enticing Week 8 matchups. Because Hall is a weaker cover man than Wilson, my bet would be on Brown pacing Pittsburgh in Week 8 catches and receiving yards. Wallace remains the superior bet for touchdowns. ... The Redskins lack explosive pass rushers aside from OLB Ryan Kerrigan, so Heath Miller should be freed up for more route running than in-line blocking this week. Miller is not typically a favorite in the Matchups column because his weekly statistical ceiling is relatively low, but he's a strong fantasy play in Week 8. No NFC defense has allowed more fantasy points to tight ends than Haslett's. ... Emmanuel Sanders remains in a fantasy holding pattern, needing Brown or Wallace to get injured in order to be start-able. The Steelers' slot receiver is averaging 38 yards a game.
Score Prediction: Steelers 30, Redskins 24
Seattle @ Detroit
The Seahawks' normally impenetrable run defense sprung leaks in last Thursday's loss to San Francisco. Short-week fatigue was likely to blame. On just three days rest, Seattle allowed a reasonable 58 first-half rushing yards before getting rag-dolled for 117 in the final two quarters. Now ten days removed from their last game, look for the Seahawks' front seven to take out its anguish on Detroit's anemic rushing attack. Still requiring heavy volume to accrue worthwhile fantasy stats, pedestrian starter Mikel Leshoure is a low-end flex option this week. After last Monday night's goal-line fumble, Joique Bell is no longer in the fantasy conversation. ... Nate Burleson fractured his right leg against the Bears and is done for the season. Burleson ranked third on the Lions in targets, averaging nearly nine per game. Because Burleson was primarily a slot receiver in Detroit's three- and four-wide offense, rookie Ryan Broyles will be the biggest immediate beneficiary in terms of sheer snaps. Broyles is a slot receiver; Titus Young is a deep threat who plays on the perimeter. As far as Week 8 pluck-and-play WR3s go, you could do worse than Broyles. The former Oklahoma star came off the bench for a 3/51/1 line at Soldier Field and will match up Sunday with slot CB Marcus Trufant, who is Seattle's weakest corner.
Young is getting more buzz than Broyles because he's long been a hot fantasy name and entered the season atop "breakout" lists. The second-year speedster will have a tough go of it against Seattle's physical press-man corners, RCB Brandon Browner and LCB Richard Sherman. Young will play more downs than Broyles, but Broyles has a better matchup. ... Calvin Johnson reminds me of Adrian Peterson last week, in terms of situation. Megatron is working on a three-game touchdown drought, but when the scores start coming, they will come in bunches. He's an ideal fantasy trade target. Despite the rough Week 8 matchup, start Johnson confidently versus the Seahawks. ... Matthew Stafford isn't playing well enough to be considered more than a QB2 against Seattle's top-eight pass defense. The Seahawks' immovable front seven should force Stafford to rack up enough passing attempts to keep Johnson and perhaps Young or Broyles' box scores afloat, but mechanical flaws and in-pocket fadeaways are torpedoing Stafford's standalone stats. 21st in quarterback scoring, Stafford has been a significantly bigger fantasy bust than Cam Newton (15th) thus far. ... You're at a weekly disadvantage if you're leaning on Lions post-up TE Brandon Pettigrew as a fantasy starter. He gets targets, but is lacking for touchdowns and yards.
Marshawn Lynch totaled 116 hard-earned yards in the Niners loss, reproving himself matchup-proof despite a three-game touchdown lull. His legs are fresh following the extended layoff, which is a scary reality for a Lions defense playing on a relatively short week. Detroit entered Week 7 with a top-12 run defense, only to be exposed by Chicago's ground game for 171 yards on 32 carries (5.34 YPC) last Monday night. Look for Lynch to rediscover pay dirt in Week 8. ... Rookie backup Robert Turbin offers better straight-line speed than Lynch and is averaging a rock-solid 4.42 YPC on 26 change-of-pace carries so far. Turbin has also flashed surprising passing-game chops for a guy who caught only 17 balls in 13 games at Utah State last year. Entering the second half of fantasy season, it's time to start stacking our benches with lottery-ticket running backs. Turbin is worth rostering in all leagues as a potential top-15 back should Lynch go down.
Russell Wilson ranks second to last in pass attempts among quarterbacks who've started all their team's games. Wilson's season stats (7.0 YPA, 8:7 TD-to-INT ratio, 59.4 completion rate) are impressive for a rookie, but he's not being allowed to sling it around enough for legitimate fantasy contribution. Even in favorable matchups like this, Wilson is a mid-range to low-end QB2. ... Doug Baldwin wasn't a big-time fantasy producer, but his indefinite absence due to a high ankle sprain deprives Wilson of one of his most dynamic weapons. ... Sidney Rice is the best bet for catches and yardage in Seattle's receiver corps, but the run-heavy mindset puts a cap on his weekly upside. Rice has been held to 41 yards or fewer in 5-of-7 games. The Week 8 matchup against Detroit's injury-ravaged secondary does make Rice a somewhat attractive WR4 and desperation WR3. ... Golden Tate is in a similar boat, but sees fewer targets than Rice. Tate was held catch-less in last week's loss to San Francisco. ... Ben Obomanu and Zach Miller are waiver-wire trash.
Score Prediction: Lions 20, Seahawks 17
Carolina @ Chicago
Cam Newton has been an early-season fantasy disappointment, and it wouldn't be crazy to bench him at the home field of the NFL's best defense. I still think he'll be a great buy-low target after this week. Carolina doesn't face a single top-ten defense in the final two months of fantasy season, and Newton's stats through the first six games aren't all that far off his rookie-year pace. Newton has completed 58.4 percent of his throws with a 5:6 TD-to-INT ratio and 8.0 YPA. Through Cam's first six games as a rookie, he completed 58.5 percent with seven touchdowns, nine picks, and an 8.07 YPA. In terms of rushing production, Newton is averaging just under one fantasy point per game less than he did in last year's initial six games. The TD and yardage disparities obviously add up, but Carolina's offense is fixable, and so is Newton's going-forward fantasy outlook. If you can get him for pennies on the dollar -- and here's guessing you can -- be aggressive. Cam can still be a stretch-run difference maker. ... Newton may struggle for big Week 8 passing stats, but top receiver Steve Smith's historical numbers against Lovie Smith defenses are downright nasty. In Smiff's last four meetings with a Lovie "D" -- including the current Bears head coach's time as St. Louis' defensive coordinator -- Smiff has racked up insane lines of 6-163-1, 14-169-0, 12-218-2, and 8-181-0. Smiff had the 181-yard game last year, so these statistics aren't all out of date.
The Panthers emerged from their Week 6 bye promoting Jonathan Stewart to feature back, while DeAngelo Williams (5 snaps) saw less field time than both J-Stew (58 snaps) and Mike Tolbert (15). Williams has been Carolina's least effective runner for quite some time, so the depth-chart switch was overdue. Stewart owners probably saw the box-score results of 13 touches for 46 scoreless yards, and assumed it was just another slow game in what's so far been a slow year for Stewart. This is a prime opportunity for forward-looking owners to pounce. Put in a trade offer to the Stewart owner in your league this week or next. The Bears have the NFL's No. 1 run defense, but the schedule softens from here on out. ... Despite the tough matchup, Stewart is a quality Week 8 flex as an all-purpose back with big-play ability. The Panthers are featuring him because he is their best runner, and adjusting their scheme from zone-read to base runs in order to jumpstart the ground game. They are putting eggs in Stewart's basket. ... Williams can be dropped in 10- and 12-team leagues. He unleashed a series of tweets this week whining about the offense. Were Williams still a core player, perhaps the Panthers would appease him with more work. Since he is clearly inferior to Stewart and arguably Tolbert, the complaining could send Williams even deeper into the doghouse. ... The Bears are schematically more willing to yield catches underneath than get beat deep. Despite an early bye, they've allowed the fourth most receptions in the NFL to tight ends. Old friend Greg Olsen is a viable TE1. ... Brandon LaFell is sure to struggle for separation against lockdown Cover-2 CBs Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman.
Since embarrassingly blowing the Week 4 game at Atlanta -- a contest the Panthers dominated and could have turned their season around with a win -- Carolina's defense has held its own the past two games. Dallas and Seattle have both struggled to move the ball on the Panthers. In what would've seemed a cupcake early-season matchup, Jay Cutler remains more of a borderline QB1 than locked-in fantasy starter. Panthers LE Charles Johnson will give Bears RT Gabe Carimi fits on the edge, and LT J'Marcus Webb is always prone to beatdowns in pass protection, regardless of opponents. ... Chicago should be more content to attack Carolina with the running game, where Matt Forte electrified with his vision, burst, and lateral movements in last Monday night's win over Detroit. Forte is back to 100 percent after his early-year ankle injury and a top-ten running back play again. ... With just 13 touches combined in his last two games playing behind a healthy Forte, Michael Bush is no longer a viable week-to-week flex option. Bush hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3. ... As suggested might happen in last Monday night's Bears-Lions Matchups preview, OC Mike Tice's pledge to increase TE Kellen Davis' involvement proved to be all talk. Davis caught one pass for three yards on two targets against Detroit. He's off the fantasy radar.
Brandon Marshall had three 100-catch seasons in Denver. I still don't think he's ever played as well as he is right now. Dominating defensive backs with physicality and sudden bursts of speed, Marshall is No. 5 overall in per-game receiver scoring. A movable chess piece in Tice's offense, Marshall will be difficult for the Panthers to defend with top cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) lost for the year. Marshall plays all over the formation and will get plenty of individual matchups against RCB Josh Norman, slot CB Captain Munnerlyn, and LCB Josh Thomas in the passing-down offense. ... The Bears started Devin Hester in place of injured Alshon Jeffery against the Lions, and he caught three balls for 38 yards. Finally healthy, Earl Bennett was the third receiver, playing 39-of-75 snaps (52 percent) and finishing with 27 yards on three receptions. Beyond Marshall, there is no fantasy appeal in the Bears' receiver corps. Jeffery was showing signs of becoming a legit No. 2 option for Cutler early in the year, but he's out at least one more week.
Score Prediction: Bears 23, Panthers 20