This is one of the toughest weeks of the fantasy football season. There are six teams on their byes – the Ravens, Bears, Texans, Colts, Chargers, and Titans – so this was a big week on the waiver wire. A good chunk of the dozen players listed below are likely available in most 10-, 12- and 14-team standard-sized leagues. This whole “sleepers” thing has been tougher than I imagined, but that’s the life of a fantasy football “expert.” Without further ado, here are the Week 8 Sleepers. I’m sure I’ll hear from a lot of you readers on Twitter about how I “failed” you come Tuesday morning.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer vs. Falcons: Palmer has been a turnover machine in recent weeks, tossing 11 interceptions to just five touchdowns over his last five games. He’s thrown at least one pick in every game this season. You’d think there would at least be one game where Palmer plays mistake-free football. Heck, maybe he won’t. But I have to put someone in this space. Palmer has a favorable matchup this week. The Falcons have given up the third-most passing touchdowns and the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The Cardinals are playing at home against a team travelling cross-country. Larry Fitzgerald should be about as healthy as he’s been in over a month. If Palmer doesn’t turn things around this week, he may find himself in a ball cap watching Drew Stanton run the offense.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Raiders: Big Ben is my favorite plug-and-play of these three quarterbacks mentioned. As Patrick Daugherty mentions in his Week 8 Rankings, Roethlisberger has posted a quarterback rating of at least 90 in four consecutive games and has completed 70.3 percent of his throws. However, he’s only tossed five touchdowns in those four games, leaving much to be desired in fantasy land. In Week 3 at Oakland last season, Roethlisberger completed 36-of-49 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns. It was arguably his best game of the season. Don’t expect OC Todd Haley to dial up that many pass plays this week, but the Raiders do have a bottom-eight pass defense in Pro Football Focus’ metrics. Roethlisberger is a high-end QB2.
Vikings QB Christian Ponder vs. Packers: As I mentioned earlier with Carson Palmer, I have to put a name in this space. Ponder is in line to start for the first time since Week 3 with Josh Freeman likely to miss Sunday Night Football with a concussion he suffered in the third quarter of last Monday night’s pitiful performance. The Packers are still missing Clay Matthews (thumb), but they did harass Brandon Weeden last week. Ponder and Weeden are in the same league as mediocre quarterbacks. But Ponder has seen these Packers before. He tossed three touchdowns against Green Bay in Week 17 last season. Ponder is a bottom-barrel QB2 option, but there are six teams on byes in Week 8.
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Patriots RB Brandon Bolden vs. Dolphins: Bolden played a season-high 49 snaps last week and is averaging 8.4 touches per game in the five contests he’s appeared in. While I wouldn’t expect Bolden to play as many snaps as he did last week – Stevan Ridley is starting to come around – the Dolphins are surrendering the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Bolden is New England’s passing-down back with Shane Vereen (wrist) still sidelined. Miami has given up 45 receptions to running backs through six games. That’s more than all but one team that has played seven games has allowed. Bolden is a decent flex option for owners in bye-week crunches.
Lions RB Joique Bell vs. Cowboys: Just like Bolden, Bell excels in the passing game. The Cowboys have been getting killed by running backs through the air. They’ve given up a league-high 49 catches to ball-carriers. Even with Reggie Bush – who is an elite running back play this week – in the lineup and fully healthy, Bell still gets a ton of work. He’s played at least 28 snaps in each game this season and averages ten touches per game, which excludes the one game he started in place of Bush against the Redskins. Bell is a worthwhile flex play most weeks, but he especially is in Week 8.
49ers RB Kendall Hunter vs. Jaguars: Hunter’s snaps have been dwindling by the week. He’s mostly just a pure handcuff option for Frank Gore owners at the moment. However, the 49ers are taking on the Jaguars this week. Gore is on the injury report with an ankle issue. It could be an opportunity to get Hunter some reps. The 49ers should have no trouble going up big on the scoreboard by the fourth quarter, leaving plenty of clock-killing carries to be taken by Hunter and Anthony Dixon. I’m grasping at straws here, but Hunter is one of the better No. 2 running back plays this week. The Jaguars have given up a league-worst 882 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
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Cardinals WR Michael Floyd vs. Falcons: Floyd has a tasty matchup with a weak Atlanta secondary that’s yielding a ton of fantasy points to opposing wide outs. The second-year receiver out of Notre Dame is seeing over seven targets per game. He’s also drawing a ton of looks from Carson Palmer near the goal line and in the end zone. It’s translated to just one touchdown on the season, though. Floyd has caught five passes in four straight games, but he’s yet to top 87 yards receiving. He’ll be running a lot of his routes against Asante Samuel, who is burnable deep. Samuel gave up a 59-yard touchdown to Vincent Jackson in Week 7. Floyd is a high-end WR3 play with WR2 upside this week.
Lions WR Kris Durham vs. Cowboys: With Nate Burleson (broken arm) out, Durham has played over 90 percent of the snaps opposite Calvin Johnson in two-wide sets the past four weeks. It’s lead to 32 targets over that span. Durham was a train wreck last season when he was forced into duty, but he’s been steadily improving each week in 2013. He’s a big guy at 6-foot-5, 215 with soft hands who doesn’t play very physical. Brandon Carr is expected to shadow Megatron, leaving Durham to work on Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. This game has the potential to be a shootout. Durham should see close to double-digit targets and is firmly on the WR3 radar in Week 8.
Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Packers: Patterson played a season-high 34.7 percent of the snaps last Monday night. Obviously that had to do with the Vikings being in full-blown pass mode in the second half, but the coaching staff has to realize sooner than later that Patterson is the most explosive player on the team behind Adrian Peterson. He excels on short routes by turning them up field for chunks of yards. With Christian Ponder, a quarterback who likes to check down and throw screens to his receivers, under center for Sunday Night Football, there could be some opportunities for Patterson. The rookie is nothing more than a WR5 at best, but there are a ton of owners in bye-week and injury crunches. Personally, I’m forced to start Patterson in one league. The guy has a Julio Jones level skill set.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Giants: I had Ertz in this section last week. He was targeted five times by a wildly inconsistent Nick Foles and turned those looks into three catches for 33 yards. Ertz also only played 23 snaps a week after playing 42. But Ertz has seen 11 targets the past two weeks. I truly believe he’s going to be a big part of the offense shortly, so I’m not going to miss out on his breakout game. The Giants have been pretty bad against tight ends, allowing 10.8 fantasy points per game to them. Ertz is on the back end of the TE2 radar this week. For Jimmy Graham (foot) owners looking for a potential fill-in on the waiver wire, you could do a lot worse than Ertz.
Rams TE Jared Cook vs. Seahawks: Cook has been disappointing since his Week 1 outburst. He hasn’t topped five catches or 45 yards receiving in any of the six games since. While the Seahawks are an imposing defense, they’re not the same on the road. That rings especially true when it comes to defending tight ends. Greg Olsen (5-56), Owen Daniels (6-72), Garrett Graham (5-69-1), and Rob Housler (7-54) have all had success against the Seahawks in home games. Kellen Clemens is making his first start of the season for the Rams, and he’s unlikely to take many shots downfield. Cook and Lance Kendricks will be his safety blankets over the middle. Cook is a high-end TE2 this week.
Falcons TE Levine Toilolo vs. Cardinals: With Julio Jones and Roddy White missing Week 7, most expected Toilolo to take on a bigger role on offense. That didn’t happen. He played a season-low six snaps against the Bucs and didn’t see a single target in the passing game. It would be silly to not get the 6-foot-8 rookie involved more. The Cardinals are the absolute worst defense in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. They’re surrendering over 17 fantasy points per game. The Falcons are likely going to visit the red zone a couple times and Toilolo could see a target or two in the end zone. He already has two touchdowns on five catches this season. Toilolo is a TE3 but he could be a decent pickup for owners in touchdown-heavy leagues.