1:00PM ET Games
San Diego @ Cleveland
After back-to-back meltdown losses to New Orleans and Denver, the Chargers used their Week 7 bye to scale back the aggressiveness of their offense. "We are going to limit some things we're doing," coach Norv Turner explained to the Union-Tribune San Diego. "... They may not have as big a reward. We may not be quite the same big-play team, but we're not going to turn the ball over." On a Grossmanian pace, Philip Rivers has been a primary culprit in San Diego's ball-security woes with 37 turnovers in his past 22 games. Turner's revision figures to involve fewer 50:50 downfield balls where Rivers trusts his receiver to make a contested catch amid tight coverage. High-risk/high-reward "shot plays" have long been a staple of Turner's vertical attack, and reining them in would bode poorly for the fantasy outlooks of vertical receivers Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem. ... Not to be forgotten when discussing San Diego's offensive production is the difference-making presence of LT Jared Gaither. In Gaither's two games played this season, Rivers has completed 45-of-65 passes (69.2 percent) for 563 yards (8.66 YPA) and a 4:2 TD-to-INT ratio. In four games without Gaither, Rivers has gone 94-of-144 (65.2 percent) for 929 yards (6.45 YPA), six touchdowns, and seven picks. That is not by accident. Gaither (groin) returned to practice this week and is expected to play against the Browns, putting Rivers back in the high-end QB2 hunt.
Whereas Floyd and Meachem may suffer as Turner installs a more risk-averse offense, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews stand to benefit. Gates confirmed that he isn't "done" with a 6-81-2 line before the bye, after performing well on the field in the two previous games despite bad breaks that cost him box-score production. Gates is San Diego's most efficient pass catcher and should not struggle to lead the team in targets the rest of the way. He's locked back in as a TE1. ... Although Mathews hasn't historically been a picture of ball security, leaning on the run game makes sense for a club attempting to turn to a ball-control style. Cleveland's defense is more vulnerable on the ground than anywhere else. The Browns rank 24th against the run, permit 4.52 yards per carry, and have allowed the second most 20-plus-yard runs in the NFL. They can be burned for big plays. Mathews is set up for a blowup game. ... Eddie Royal showed yet again that he's one of the NFL's worst receivers in last Monday night's loss to the Broncos. He had a brutal drop and refused to fight for the football. Two of the five passes Rivers intended for Royal were picked off. Royal is a complete fantasy non-factor and should lose his job to Vincent Brown when Brown's fractured left ankle heals. Look for Brown to rejoin the lineup by Week 10 or 11.
Brandon Weeden was a popular preseason piñata because he was genuinely playing like busts do. He seemed to have no idea how to deal with pressure, and he locked onto his first read. The guy is old, for a rookie. He's on the Browns. He was an easy target. Weeden has come an awfully long way in six weeks. Settling in as a legitimately solid NFL starter, Weeden has completed 69 of his last 115 passes (60 percent) for 881 yards (7.66 YPA), six touchdowns, and three picks. The first-year gunslinger's yards-per-attempt average and TD-to-INT ratio would be even better had Josh Gordon not lost last week's would-be game-winning 55-yard touchdown bomb in the sun. San Diego can be exploited in the air, ranking 25th in pass defense and having generated the sixth fewest sacks in the league. The Chargers' defensive TD-to-INT ratio against is 14:7; only four teams have permitted more touchdown passes. Weeden is a strong two-quarterback league play in Week 8, and he's beginning to flirt with high-end QB2 value. ... Gordon scored his fourth TD in the past three weeks at Indianapolis, securing Weeden's perfectly-placed back-shoulder throw in Colts top CB Jerraud Powers' coverage. Gordon has good hands, so don't hold the late-game drop against him. Downfield shot plays to Gordon have become a staple of Cleveland's passing attack, and the supplemental rookie will continue to be a high-upside WR3. This week's matchup is favorable because San Diego lacks speed in the secondary. Gordon has it in spades.
Greg Little has been so inefficient through 23 NFL games that last week's 6-52-1 line on seven targets was arguably the best performance of his career. Little still double-caught his 14-yard touchdown, of course, and has bad hands. He's a low-end WR3 against San Diego. ... Undrafted rookie Josh Cooper has taken over as Cleveland's slot receiver, rotating in between Little and Gordon. Fourth-rounder Travis Benjamin is the No. 4, and Mohamed Massaquoi may finally return from his hamstring injury this week for a situational deep threat role. Browns receivers behind Gordon and perhaps Little aren't worth rostering in fantasy leagues. ... Trent Richardson's fantasy owners simply have to make a gut-based decision Sunday morning on whether to insert him into lineups. San Diego is tops in the AFC in run defense, and T-Rich was so ineffective trying to play through his rib-cartilage injury against the Colts that coach Pat Shurmur had no choice but to bench him at halftime. "He's not running with either the decisiveness or the power that he showed in college," NFL Films' Greg Cosell observed on Adam Caplan's podcast this week, after viewing the Colts-Browns game tape. "It's a little concerning. ... Richardson does not look like the same player." My best guess is that Richardson will try to play in a rotation with Montario Hardesty against San Diego. Because it's such a difficult matchup, this looks like a fantasy situation to avoid.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Browns 17
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
Is Chris Johnson back? He's certainly strung together back-to-back RB1-type performances. As explained in Week 7 Matchups, Johnson ran harder than he has all season against the Steelers two weeks ago. He didn't need to run especially hard last week against the Bills because Tennessee's run blocking was so dominant. But Johnson reintroduced what I'd estimate are still 4.3 wheels on a first-quarter 83-yard touchdown sprint, continued to put in effort as a pass blocker -- which I've found to be a reliable indicator of his all-around on-field play -- and generated gains in the 3- to 9-yard range on 9-of-19 touches. So it wasn't all boom or bust. We may not find out whether CJ?K has genuinely turned his season around until he faces the run-tough defenses of Chicago and Miami in Weeks 9-10, but he's every bit earned a top-five running back start in Week 8. Johnson can still accelerate and cut on a dime, and he's lost little or no long speed. Indianapolis ranks 26th against the run. Only four NFL defenses allow a higher yards-per-carry average, and just three have permitted more rushing scores. ... Field time is an issue again for Jared Cook, who played less than 50 percent of last week's snaps against the Bills. Cook has been held under 40 receiving yards in three of the past four games, and the Colts allow the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Cook is a TE2 and fair bye-week desperation option, but nothing more.
Coming off a disappointing 4-30 line against the Bills, Kenny Britt remains capable of an explosion game at any moment. But there are factors working against him right now. Matt Hasselbeck lacks vertical passing ability at age 37, and Tennessee's offense didn't even attempt to go deep at Buffalo with Johnson running so well. It's conceivable that Britt won't reach his potential until strong-armed Jake Locker (shoulder) returns to the lineup. I'd still struggle to hold Britt out of a WR3 slot against a Colts defense serving up a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio through six games, as well as the NFL's fourth highest passer rating. The Titans are likely to have aerial success on Sunday. ... Due to diminished physical skills and an offensive philosophy the coaching staff would prefer to be run-first, Hasselbeck is just a low-upside two-quarterback league option versus the Colts. ... With Tennessee's receiver corps back to full strength, Britt and Nate Washington are the starters, Kendall Wright is the No. 3, and Damian Williams is No. 4. Wright has been a 46-percent player over the past two games. The rookie should continue to get the ball on bubble screens, but isn't making plays downfield in the dumbed-down Hasselbeck offense. ... Washington gets more playing time than Wright, but is a hit-or-miss fantasy play. He's cleared 60 receiving yards in 1-of-7 games and needs touchdowns to prove a worthwhile fantasy start. ... Please don't chase Jamie Harper's three goal-line scores over the past two weeks. That is unsustainable production.
Andrew Luck's pair of rushing touchdowns saved his fantasy day in Week 7, but he has been a largely ineffective passer since the Green Bay game. With Reggie Wayne showing he's human -- and turning 34 in a month -- Luck has completed just 35 of his last 70 passes (50 percent) for 434 yards (6.2 YPA), and a 0:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Tennessee's 27th-ranked pass defense presents a favorable Week 8 matchup for Luck, but it seems clear that he won't reach stable QB1 value until either another one of Indianapolis' pass catchers steps up as a go-to option, or the Colts acquire a big-time receiver in the offseason. Luck does offer standard-league streamer appeal this week because the Titans have allowed the most touchdown passes in the NFL and don't get after the passer well (nine sacks in seven games). ... Wayne continues to dominate targets, leading the league in that category on a per-game basis. Only Wes Welker, Victor Cruz, and Percy Harvin have more receptions. Wayne has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last six meetings with the Titans and remains a borderline WR1 despite diminished recent production.
The cluster of Colts pass catchers beyond Wayne continues to cause fantasy headaches. Donnie Avery should theoretically be atop the heap, but is a limited player physically and doing little in the vertical passing game with just one 20-plus-yard catch since Week 2. This is another favorable matchup for Avery, but he has consistently failed to deliver in previous favorable matchups. ... Though all promising in their own way long term, rookies T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen offer no value in re-draft leagues. ... Donald Brown (knee scope) is expected to be active for Week 8, but may need another week to regain feature-back duties. Vick Ballard figures to lead the backfield in carries for one more game. It's been stated in this space each of the past two weeks: Ballard isn't going to hit long runs, make big plays, or score many touchdowns. He's a worker-bee back and a low-upside, if viable flex against the Titans' No. 25 run defense. ... Delone Carter got 11 carries last week, but is tough to watch. He runs like he's stuck in mud around the line of scrimmage and lacks quick-twitch athleticism. After the Colts' coaches watched the Week 7 game film, they're probably not going to want to give Carter the ball that often anymore. ... Mewelde Moore was Indy's third-down and red-zone back in last Sunday's win over the Browns, although Ballard got snaps in scoring position, too. Neither executed. Moore is not a fantasy option.
Score Prediction: Titans 23, Colts 20
Miami @ NY Jets
Mixing and matching with makeshift personnel, the Jets have stayed admirably competitive in the wake of Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis' year-ending injuries. They lost to the Texans and Patriots by a reasonable nine points combined, in between plastering the Colts 35-9. The Jets' offense is moving the ball, and their most consistent skill player is slot man/split end Jeremy Kerley. Kerley ranks 14th in the league in targets over the past three weeks and 20th in fantasy receiver points. He also has the most favorable Week 8 matchup of any Jet. While rookie outside receiver Stephen Hill is the most likely candidate for Dolphins top corner Sean Smith's shadow coverage, Kerley should spend most of this game dealing with burnable RCB Nolan Carroll and slot CB Jimmy Wilson. Kerley is a strong WR3 in PPR and worth a bye-week look in standard settings. ... Mark Sanchez has experienced a recent next-game hangover of sorts the week after playing New England. In Sanchez's last three games following Patriots games, he's completed a combined 55-of-109 passes (50.5 percent) for 669 yards (6.14 YPA), one touchdown, and two picks. The Jets are 1-2. Playing far better pass defense than its No. 28 ranking indicates, Miami has a 7:7 TD-to-INT ratio against, ranks top ten in the league in sacks, and is allowing opponents to complete just 57.5 percent of their pass attempts. Sanchez remains a low-end QB2 in Week 8.
Perhaps realizing it's do-or-die time in a contract year, Shonn Greene has played like a genuinely serviceable NFL starter the past two weeks. Greene set a career high in rushing yards in Week 6, and came up one catch short of another career best with six Week 7 receptions. He's headed for a brick wall on Sunday. The Dolphins' run defense ranks No. 4 overall and permits 3.30 yards per carry, the second stingiest average in the league. In seven career matchups with Miami, Greene has amassed 247 yards on 82 carries (3.01 YPC). He's never scored a touchdown against the Dolphins. ... Tim Tebow is a non-factor. ... Hill retook his starting job in Week 7, relegating Chaz Schilens to third receiver duties. The raw rookie Hill will have trouble getting open against Smith, so eyeball Kerley if you're desperate to start a Jets receiver. ... Dustin Keller proved he's back to 100 percent in one of the best performances of his career last week in Foxboro. Keller secured 7-of-7 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown. No tight end has scored on the Fins this season, but they have allowed the eighth most yards to the position. Keller is worth a look as a back-end TE1.
The Jets and Fins met in Week 3 and played to a draw in regulation, before Nick Folk banged home the game-winning overtime kick. On the back of Reggie Bush, the Dolphins kicked the Jets' tail early in that game. Bush piled up 61 yards on ten first-half carries before suffering a left knee injury that has hobbled him since. Bush used the Week 7 bye to nurse back to full health, and he'll resume giving New York's cement-footed front seven fits on perimeter runs. The buzz on Bush has cooled considerably of late -- for good reason -- but I like him as a top-15 running back play in Week 8. ... There are brighter days ahead for Brian Hartline, but this isn't the week to bet he rediscovers early-year form. The Jets have been even tougher on opposing No. 1 receivers since losing Darrelle Revis for the season, holding Andre Johnson (1-15-0), Reggie Wayne (5-87-0), Brandon Lloyd (1-6-0), Michael Crabtree (2-15-0), and Hartline himself (1-41-0) all out of the end zone over the past five weeks. With Antonio Cromartie playing the best pass coverage of his career, Hartline is a WR4 in Week 8. He can regain WR3 start-ability at Indianapolis in Week 9.
In the aforementioned Dolphins-Jets game, Davone Bess led Miami in receiving with 86 yards on five catches. Bess doesn't score touchdowns and remains much more of a PPR than standard-scoring consideration, but he should get open against Jets Nos. 2 and 3 CBs Kyle Wilson and Isaiah Trufant in the best Week 8 matchup among Fins receivers. ... Rex Ryan's defense hasn't fallen apart despite the loss of its best player. Not even close. The Jets still rank ninth in the NFL against the pass and present a difficult matchup for Ryan Tannehill, who has played very well for a rookie but isn't putting up fantasy-relevant numbers. ... Dolphins third receiver Marlon Moore and tight end Anthony Fasano both scored Week 7 touchdowns. Neither player has cleared 50 yards in any game this season. Tannehill's involvement of all his pass options shows rookie savvy, but Moore and Fasano remain off the fantasy radar. ... Daniel Thomas will return from his concussion this week, pushing rookie Lamar Miller back to third string on the tailback depth chart. Seemingly in the doghouse due to his inability to improve at the "little things" like pass blocking, Miller didn't receive a single carry in Miami's last two games, playing just 12 combined snaps.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 21, Jets 17