4:05PM ET Game
Oakland @ Kansas City
I've struggled with Darren McFadden this year. You know that if you read Matchups, or if you so much as read last week's column. I still think there are reasons for optimism. McFadden has job security. He possesses big-time talent and workloads. His schedule is a cakewalk. And the Raiders aren't ignorant to the fact that McFadden is not a one-cut zone runner. That's a big step: Identification of the problem. This isn't a Chris Johnson 2011 situation where the back simply refuses to work for yards. It's a schematic issue than can be fixed. DMC owners are bailing on him wherever they can, and I think the best response for the forward-looking fantasy leaguer is to capitalize on their understandable impatience. McFadden maintains top-five running back upside during the season's second half, beginning with Sunday's tilt against Kansas City's 22nd-ranked run defense. ... Since we're tackling the topic of running back stashes this week, Mike Goodson is about as good as they come. McFadden's injury history is well documented, and it's arguable that Goodson is a better fit for what Oakland is trying to do with its run game. The explosive, versatile Goodson is averaging over 11 yards every time he touches the football this season. If McFadden got injured, Goodson would also benefit from the Raiders' fantasy-friendly run-defense schedule.
Kansas City's defense has surrendered the fifth most points in the league despite an early-season bye. The Chiefs have permitted a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing passers, and no AFC team is allowing a higher yards-per-pass-attempt average (8.9). With Denarius Moore emerging as a true No. 1 receiver and Darrius Heyward-Bey getting his legs back, Carson Palmer is fairly appealing in Week 8 as a high-end QB2. ... Denarius Moore racked up eight Week 7 targets and has at least 70 yards and/or a touchdown in four games straight. He's someone to ride as a WR2/3. Moore ripped Kansas City for 94 yards and a score on four grabs in their last meeting. ... DHB gives Oakland's offense an additional vertical presence, although last week's 85-yard effort was his first game over 43 yards on the season. He's an unreliable WR3 who serves better as a WR4 in 12-team leagues. ... End-zone allergic TE Brandon Myers has played in 48 career games and never found pay dirt. While Myers has done well to carve out a consistent role in Oakland's 2012 passing offense, here's hoping you can find a bye-week tight end who offers a bit more upside.
Sitting on a 1-5 record and the league's most underachieving team entering the eighth week of action, the Chiefs field two fantasy-relevant players, and one of the two may soon become increasingly difficult to trust. Locked in is Jamaal Charles, who ranks third in fantasy points per game among running backs, behind only Arian Foster and Ray Rice. On shaky footing is Dwayne Bowe due to the surprise insertion of Brady Quinn at quarterback during Kansas City's Week 7 bye. Quinn was simply atrocious in his first start, showing a better rapport with lineman-turned-tight end Steve Maneri, who led the Chiefs in Week 6 receiving. Dexter McCluster, a second-team receiver, also caught more passes for more yards than Bowe. Perhaps simply practicing with the first-team offense during the open date will improve the rapport of the Quinn-to-Bowe would-be connection. And you can't sit Bowe against a Raiders defense that ranks 22nd against the pass. The talent and matchup on Bowe are both right. The quarterback threatens to be a big problem.
Peyton Hillis will return from his high ankle sprain against the Raiders, replacing Shaun Draughn as the "breather back" behind Charles. Even before the injury, Hillis didn't look like his old self, and there's a case to be made that he's never been the same since the Browns overworked him in 2010. Hillis is just an RB5 stash. Draughn can be dropped. ... McCluster, Jon Baldwin, Tony Moeaki, and perhaps Maneri will be fighting for scraps in Kansas City's pass-catching corps behind Bowe going forward. Maybe one of the four will emerge as a flier-type fantasy play in the doubtful event Quinn finds a rhythm, but for now none of them are rosterable in 12-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Raiders 20, Chiefs 14
4:25PM ET Game
NY Giants @ Dallas
Inside linebacker Sean Lee was Dallas' best defender, and his year-ending toe surgery will be felt against both the run and pass. In terms of Week 8 fantasy beneficiaries, Martellus Bennett figures to lead the way. Back to 100 percent, Bennett racked up a solid 5-79 line on seven Week 7 targets and narrowly missed a second-quarter touchdown on an Eli Manning overthrow. With Lee gone, there will be increased leaks down the middle of the Cowboys' defense. The Giants can take advantage with their Black Unicorn. ... Hakeem Nicks looked spry in his own right in last week's win over the Redskins, even if his stats (5-53) haven't caught up yet. He was pulled down just short of the goal line on a second-quarter red-zone grab, and had a 15-yard sideline catch negated by an offensive line holding call. The Cowboys held Nicks in check in the opener (4-38), but he was still bouncing back from foot surgery at the time. Healthy now, Nicks should be locked into lineups. ... Manning missed a ton of open throws last week. The would-be score to Bennett. A 60-plus-yard bomb opportunity to Victor Cruz after RCB Josh Wilson slipped in coverage. Another intermediate red-zone shot intended for Bennett late in the third quarter. Manning made the big throw to Cruz down the seam when it mattered most, but he's going to have to play better this week to generate QB1-caliber production. Passing windows will be smaller against the Cowboys' top-three pass defense.
Cruz, by the way, is on an absolute tear. He leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns and fantasy receiver scoring over the past three weeks. He's also caught six balls in all three career meetings with Dallas. Cruz gets the most favorable Week 8 matchup of New York's wide receivers, drawing overrated slot CB Orlando Scandrick in primary coverage. ... Domenik Hixon has settled back in as the Giants' third receiver and caught 3-of-4 targets for 32 scoreless yards against Washington. Hixon has been reduced to a WR5. ... Ahmad Bradshaw was missing burst against the Redskins after sitting out two practices due to foot soreness. He did remain the clear lead back over Andre Brown, the latter of whom played only 16 snaps and received six touches. Brown is an RB3/4. After three consecutive productive fantasy weeks, owners should still be trying to sell Bradshaw high. Although the Lee injury helps his cause, Bradshaw is a mid-range to low-end RB2 against Dallas' top-15 run defense. ... Rookie David Wilson did not see the field on offense versus the Skins, only returning kicks. He's a third-stringer at the moment and just a talented roster stash.
On top of the losses of Lee and feature back DeMarco Murray, C Phil Costa's dislocated ankle is as major a concern for the Cowboys' outlook as any injury they've encountered. Costa has been a dominant run blocker when healthy and stabilized interior pass protection. Felix Jones was fool's gold in his Week 7 start, and I think he'll be fool's gold again as the Giants' front four controls the line of scrimmage. Also still nursing knee and neck ailments, Jones has never played well through pain. ... Phillip Tanner showed little juice on 13 carries at Carolina and is averaging 3.11 YPC on 44 career attempts. Dallas needs to start thinking about getting undersized speed back Lance Dunbar involved. ... Tony Romo's target distribution over his last three games: Dez Bryant 31, Jason Witten 29, Miles Austin 20, Kevin Ogletree 15, Jones 7, Tanner 4. ... Witten lacks the big-play, seam-stretching athletic gifts he once possessed, but the ball is going his way and he's caught at least six passes in three consecutive games. He's a back-end TE1 lacking the weekly upside of a Martellus Bennett, but offering fantasy owners a bit more stability.
Bryant missed 21 of the Cowboys' Week 7 offensive snaps due to an in-game concussion test, which came back negative. Off the injury report this week after last Friday's groin scare, Bryant needs to stay in fantasy lineups as an every-week WR2 despite his inconsistency. The Giants' cornerback play is a weakness, and Romo won't stop trying to get Dez the football. ... Ogletree had a big season opener (8-114-2) against this same New York defense, but it will be aware of him this time around. Keep in mind that fluke performance came with Witten and Austin both at significantly less than full strength. Ogletree has cleared 30 yards in just 1-of-5 games since and isn't a fantasy option. ... Despite his relatively low target counts, Austin has continually produced with efficiency as a pass catcher and run-after-reception skills. He's a top-13 wideout in fantasy points per game. ... The Costa injury is something of a concern for Romo, but he has always had success facing the Giants. In his last nine regular season meetings with the G-Men, Romo has completed 186-of-270 passes (68.9%) for 2,311 yards (8.56 YPA), 24 touchdowns, and seven interceptions with two more rushing scores. He has a 13:2 TD-to-INT ratio in the last five.
Score Prediction: Giants 27, Cowboys 17
Sunday Night Football
New Orleans @ Denver
The expert prognosticators are anticipating a scoring bonanza on Sunday Night Football. Saints-Broncos has an over-under of 55.5, which is the highest point projection of the season to date. The Saints' defense can't stop anybody, and no one can stop the New Orleans offense. Fire up your guys. ... Because New Orleans' defense is so bad, Drew Brees is having to do more than ever. He's putting this team on his back. That may not end especially well in the won-loss column, but it's welcomed news for fantasy owners. Brees is on pace for a career-high 48 TD passes. He's third in the NFL in passing yards, and the two guys ahead of him (Eli Manning, Tom Brady) haven't had their bye weeks yet. The Broncos do one thing well defensively -- rush the passer -- and Brees can counteract that with a devastatingly quick release and decision making. He's a virtual lock for a big passing night. ... Marques Colston is on a rampage. He has 25 catches for 357 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games. Colston is an every-week WR1. ... Colston is blowing up, but Lance Moore was the Saints' best receiver in last Sunday's win over the Buccaneers. Getting open at will on third downs, Moore secured 9-of-10 targets for 121 yards in a truly dominant effort. Moore can be considered Brees' No. 2 pass option until we see Jimmy Graham (ankle) prove he's back at full strength. In a shootout game, Moore is a legit WR2.
Graham is shaping up as a game-time decision, which is problematic in a game with a late start. Backup David Thomas scored a touchdown last week, but it was Thomas' first score in his last 17 games. Broncos TE Jacob Tamme would be a better fallback option for Graham owners, if he indeed is declared inactive. We’ll know more by Sunday. ... Devery Henderson caught 3-of-3 targets in Week 7 for 75 yards. Henderson is a similar player to Vikings WR Jerome Simpson, and he's not suddenly going to turn into a reliable fantasy contributor as a ninth-year NFL player. He's a situational, sideline-running deep threat. Henderson is a WR5. ... Fellow vertical speedster Joseph Morgan shook off a massive hit to score a thrilling 48-yard touchdown in Week 7, but will miss Week 8 with a chest injury. ... Darren Sproles' nine touches in last week's win over the Bucs were disappointing after New Orleans' bye, but he still generated 59 yards and a score. Fantasy owners should ride it out and remain confident Sproles' workloads will pick up. He's too valuable to the offense to stay in the single-digits for touches. ... Pierre Thomas has overtaken Mark Ingram as the favorite for rushing attempts in the Saints' backfield, and also scored on a fourth-quarter red-zone carry from five yards out against Tampa Bay. Ingram is waiver-wire fodder. Thomas is a flex option.
The Saints' defense has allowed 2,793 yards this season. It's the most yardage allowed in NFL history through six games. Steve Spagnuolo's unit is thoroughly abominable. It can't get after the passer. There are frequent back-end coverage busts. New Orleans can't stop the run. The No. 5 quarterback in fantasy points per game, Peyton Manning has rediscovered elite form and seems to get better every week. He put on an absolute clinic in the second half of Denver's Week 6 comeback win over San Diego. ... Also lock in Demaryius Thomas. A physical freak after the catch and Manning's go-to red-zone option, Thomas has 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in all but one game this year. He'll match up Sunday night with Saints RCB Patrick Robinson, who's been getting torched relentlessly. Robinson was the main culprit in Vincent Jackson's 7-216-1 stat line from Week 7. ... Eric Decker is a top-20 fantasy receiver on a per-game basis, and I'd never discourage you from starting him in a projected shootout. But Decker has a tougher Week 8 matchup than Thomas, set to deal with Saints top CB Jabari Greer. Decker remains well worthy of a borderline WR2 fantasy play. He leads Denver in catches and is second to Thomas in yards.
No Broncos skill player has a more favorable Week 8 matchup than Willis McGahee, though. New Orleans' 31st-ranked run defense is getting tagged for 4.93 yards per carry and has allowed eight rushing touchdowns in six games. It's fair to wonder if McGahee might slow down as his age-31 season progresses, but he's currently coming off a bye week with fresh legs. Look for McGahee to reenter the end zone this week after a two-game drought. ... Broncos rookie Ronnie Hillman isn't one of the top lottery-ticket "stash" backs because he almost certainly wouldn't be entrusted with a full workload in the event of a McGahee injury. Hillman is also averaging just 2.94 yards per carry on 17 attempts thus far. He's shown faster feet and better acceleration than that statistic suggests, but is still learning to play in the NFL. ... Rotating Broncos tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are clear-cut fantasy backups, although it's reasonable to think one of them will find pay dirt against the Saints if this game plays out as it projects. Tamme catches more passes than Dreessen, but is working on a five-game touchdown drought. Dreessen is like Scott Chandler in that he'll hurt you if he doesn't score.
Score Prediction: Broncos 35, Saints 31
Monday Night Football
San Francisco @ Arizona
If the Giants are fielding 2012's premier pass-blocking line, the 49ers are their equal in terms of run blocking. This is a beastly front five that kicks the tar out of opponents in two-tight end jumbo sets. Washington leads the league in rushing yards per game due to its dual-threat quarterback, but the Niners are a close second. And no team can match San Francisco's team yards-per-carry average (5.89) or volume of 20-plus-yard runs (10). Frank Gore also happens to have a favorable Week 8 matchup. Fully recovered from last Thursday night's rib scare, Gore will square off with a Cardinals defense that has surrendered 331 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 62 carries (5.34 YPC) over its last two games. The Niners do have perhaps the NFL's toughest run-defense schedule for the fantasy playoffs (vs. MIA, @ NE, @ SEA), so Gore will remain a recommended sell-high candidate for the next few weeks. ... 49ers No. 2 tailback Kendall Hunter continues to impress on his change-of-pace opportunities, averaging 5.16 YPC with six catches for 73 yards. Hunter isn't a fantasy option as long as Gore is healthy, but he's squarely on the radar as a lottery-ticket, late-season stash. Gore is 29 with over 2,000 career touches worth of wear on his tires.
Be it due to a mysterious finger injury or waning confidence as Jim Harbaugh increases backup Colin Kaepernick's game-day contributions, Alex Smith has taken a major step back since his hot start to the year. He's completed 33 of his last 55 passes for 340 yards (6.18 YPA) and a 1:4 TD-to-INT ratio. Smith is dinking and dunking again. Regardless of whether he's playing well -- and he isn't right now -- Smith is no more than a back-end QB2. The Cardinals are playing top-four pass defense, so look for Harbaugh to attack them with the run. ... Vernon Davis laid a Week 7 goose egg in large part because he spent most of the Seattle game as an in-line run blocker. Not even targeted, Davis' reduced pass-catching role appeared to be specific to that week's game plan. Look for Davis to get back on track this week. ... Mario Manningham returns from his shoulder injury on Monday Night Football as a low-end WR3. He is clearly ahead of Randy Moss and Kyle Williams on the depth chart, but figures to draw Patrick Peterson in primary coverage and can be taken out of games with physical jamming at the line. ... Michael Crabtree ate up Peterson's off-coverage cushion for a 7-120 line in November of last season. The Niners and Cards met again in December, and Arizona defended Crabtree differently, holding him to 63 yards on seven catches. Crabtree can be a PPR asset on Monday night. He's just never a good bet to score touchdowns.
Cards scatback/returner La'Rod Stephens-Howling's Week 7 stat line (20-104-1, 4-45) is awfully deceptive. Plenty of fantasy owners will "chase" last week's points into Week 8. Don't be one of them. As acknowledged after the game by coach Leslie Frazier, Minnesota's defense sold out to eliminate Larry Fitzgerald (4-29), and in exchange allowed Arizona to run the ball with success. "Take away Number 11," Frazier said, when quizzed about his game plan. "They might get some runs, but can't give them big plays over the top." The strategy worked in Minnesota's 21-14 win. 49ers DC Vic Fangio is a more conventional thinker, rarely designing game-specific defenses. San Francisco can take away Arizona's run game by simply winning the trench battle. And they will do so handily. ... Coach Ken Whisenhunt had planned to ride the "hot hand" entering Week 7. Stephens-Howling had it, so William Powell finished with just five touches. This is an incredibly difficult matchup for an Arizona team that can't run block. Avoid the Cards' backfield in Week 8.
John Skelton is a streaky passer with major shortcomings as an athlete and placer of the ball. He faced this 49ers' defense twice this year, was picked off three times without a touchdown in the first game. Skelton threw for 289 yards, three scores, and two interceptions in the second go-round. Skelton isn't even on the two-QB league radar Monday night, but all is not quite lost for Fitzgerald despite last week's game. Fitz found pay dirt in both of his 2011 meetings with San Francisco. ... The 49ers rank No. 1 in both total defense and pass defense. The statistics say Arizona is highly unlikely to enjoy success from a passing standpoint in this matchup. If Fitzgerald is going to get "his" on Monday night, there probably won't be much left over for the likes of Andre Roberts, Rob Housler, Early Doucet, and rookie Michael Floyd. ... Roberts is a clear-cut WR4, and nothing more. He can have solid games when opponents sell out to eliminate Fitzgerald. I think the 49ers will do what they normally do on defense in this game, and Roberts will come away with something more like his two 2011 lines against San Francisco: 3-51, 2-8-1.
Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 13