Cleveland @ Kansas City
Confirming himself a matchup-proof RB1, Jamaal Charles has dusted top-13 run defenses this year for an average of 134.3 total yards per game and four combined all-purpose touchdowns in three such matchups. So Cleveland's No. 9 run defense should instill little fear in fantasy owners. When Charles isn't shredding enemy front sevens on the ground, he's racking up catches and beating defenders in space. And he's literally always hitting pay dirt. Charles has yet to go four quarters this year without scoring a touchdown. ... At the opposite end of the spectrum is Alex Smith, a pure game manager whom coach Andy Reid asks not to lose games as opposed to win them. Smith has failed to throw a touchdown pass in four of his last five games. He hasn't reached 300 passing yards once all season. Smith legitimately offers less fantasy upside than Thad Lewis week in and week out. He's a low-end QB2 against Cleveland's top-seven pass defense.
Anthony Fasano returned from a five-week knee injury in last Sunday's win over the Texans, and immediately became a big part of the Chiefs' passing offense. He secured 4-of-5 targets for 27 yards, which is quality production on a Smith-quarterbacked team. Lumbering, block-first Fasano is worth a look for desperate TE1 streamers against a Browns defense coughing up the 12th most catches to tight ends. ... Smith's target distribution with Fasano back: Dwayne Bowe 9; Dexter McCluster and Fasano 5; Donnie Avery, Anthony Sherman, and Charles 4; Sean McGrath 2. ... Don't think of Bowe's season-high nine targets as a sign of box-score production to come, especially against Joe Haden. No longer worth a roster spot in 12-team leagues, Bowe is the No. 55 overall fantasy wideout behind the likes of Brandon LaFell and Riley Cooper. ... Partner-in-crime Avery is 57th in receiver scoring. He's been held under 40 yards in 5-of-7 games. Avery is a better bet than Bowe this week because he'll draw more Chris Owens than Haden, but remains a bottom-barrel fantasy option. ... Role player McCluster is worth a look in return-yardage leagues; just don't let last week's 70 receiving yards deceive you. 46 of them came on a third-and-21 screen pass versus the Brian Cushing-less Texans defense. McCluster has always and will always be fantasy trash.
Brandon Weeden had arguably the worst game of his career in last week's loss to Green Bay, but the Browns know Jason Campbell is an inferior option, or else they wouldn't have turned back to Weeden in the first place following Brian Hoyer's ACL tear. Cleveland has actually passed up the chance to insert Campbell twice this season, once after Weeden's Week 2 thumb injury, and again after Hoyer's injury. So at this point they are throwing mud at the wall, knowing full well it won't stick. With a windup delivery and concrete feet, 32-year-old journeyman Campbell is the kind of quarterback who worsens offensive line play and will be a sitting duck against a Chiefs defense that generates more pressure than any team in football. They're first in the NFL with 35 sacks -- 10 ahead of second-place Baltimore. Fire up Kansas City's fantasy defense and be wary of Browns skill-position players. In all likelihood, this one is going to get ugly, quick. ... Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron still project as Cleveland's go-to targets in the passing game, but need to be downgraded. Gordon is more of a WR3 this week, while Cameron is a low-end TE1. In Cameron's case, it's worth noting SS Eric Berry's Chiefs have allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. In Gordon's case, it's notable that Andre Johnson dropped 89 yards on Kansas City last week, with Case Keenum under center. So all is not necessarily lost.
I'd write off the rest of Cleveland's pass catchers as Week 8 deep-league starts. Even in ideal situations, slot man Davone Bess and possession flanker Greg Little lack upside for serious fantasy consideration. They're now faced with surely-inept quarterback play against the NFL's best defense. ... With Fozzy Whittaker introduced to the timeshare, the Browns' backfield has been reduced to a fantasy value-less three-headed monster. Whittaker played 22 snaps in Week 7, primarily as a passing-down back, and gained 24 yards on seven touches. Chris Ogbonnaya played 20 downs, dropped one of his two targets, and failed to secure the other. Willis McGahee led the running back corps in snaps (32) and carries (11), but is averaging 2.90 YPC on the year and allowed a sack of Weeden, which won't help his already long odds of an increased passing-game role. As Maurice Jones-Drew (15-45-0), Arian Foster (4-11-0), DeMarco Murray (15-25-0), Ben Tate (15-50-0), David Wilson (13-55-0), Chris Johnson (10-17-0), and Darren McFadden (16-52-0) can all attest, Kansas City is not an attractive matchup for enemy tailbacks. Those runners have combined for no rushing touchdowns and a 2.89 yards-per-carry average against the Chiefs.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Browns 13
Dallas @ Detroit
The Lions' pass defense is becoming a major concern after solid early-season performance. They had to bench top CB Chris Houston for getting shredded by A.J. Green last week, and although the defensive line has generally played well, Detroit ranks a disappointing 27th in sacks. The Lions' other regular corners are 33-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis, gambling slot CB Bill Bentley, and rookie Darius Slay, who was benched early in the season. Detroit needs more sacks to mask its cornerback deficiencies, but seems unlikely to get them against a Cowboys team surrendering just over two sacks a game with a top-four pass-blocking group, per Pro Football Focus. Beneath Ford Field's dome in a game with a 51-point over-under -- third highest of Week 7 -- I'd feel very good about Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Terrance Williams as locked-in fantasy starters. ... Bryant is the No. 1 overall fantasy receiver the past five weeks, and No. 2 on the season behind Wes Welker. The Lions don't have a defensive back capable of containing him. ... Williams' efficiency has been incredible as he bypasses Miles Austin to be Dallas' clear-cut No. 2 wideout. The third-round pick has secured 24-of-28 targets with just one drop through six games, good for an 86% catch rate that ranks behind only teammate Cole Beasley among NFL wide receivers with at least 20 targets. In other words, Williams has earned the promotion. If the Lions put brackets on Dez, Williams could be headed for a huge game in single coverage. Williams' rookie-year improvement has been amazing after STATS charged him with nine drops as a college senior.
Some opposing outside receiver stats versus the Lions this year: Josh Gordon 7-126; James Jones 4-127-1; A.J. Green 8-155-1; Alshon Jeffery 5-107-1; Jerome Simpson 7-140; Brandon Marshall 7-79; Pierre Garcon 8-73. ... Romo's target distribution since Austin's (hamstring) half-hearted return to the lineup two games ago: Dez 24, Beasley 12, Jason Witten 11, Williams 9, Austin 7, Joseph Randle 6. ... The Lions have allowed the fourth most receptions and sixth most yards to tight ends, giving mid-range TE1 Witten a plus matchup. ... If Austin does not play at Detroit -- and my guess is he won't -- Beasley will be worth a long look for desperate PPR owners as a WR3. Beasley would be Dallas' primary slot receiver in all three-wide packages. He's coming off a six-catch, 53-yard game on seven targets. ... Due to the nature of DeMarco Murray's MCL injury, return of change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar (hamstring), and Joseph Randle's solid Week 7 performance, Dallas' backfield has the look of a Week 8 fantasy situation to avoid. Phillip Tanner is also available for designated pass-blocking situations, in case the Cowboys don't want to push Murray into resuming every-down back duties in his first game back. Roles are all up in the air, and Murray's health has never been trustworthy. I'd view him as a high-risk flex option.
Humming again with Calvin Johnson's knee back near full strength, Matthew Stafford has a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last two games while leapfrogging to second in fantasy quarterback scoring. That's right, Stafford is the No. 2 fantasy QB behind Peyton Manning, while only Peyton, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers have scored more points per game. View Stafford as an every-week starter regardless of matchups, and play him with excitement in this potential shootout versus Dallas' No. 30 pass defense. The Cowboys will be without FS J.J. Wilcox, who suffered an MCL sprain in Thursday's practice. ... Beyond Calvin Johnson, there are so many moving parts in Detroit's pass-catching corps that trying to chase recent box-score stats is more likely to cause headaches than pay off. Joseph Fauria chasers felt the Week 7 brunt as he finished with a 15-yard catch on four targets one game after scoring three TDs. A lumbering, touchdown-dependent part-time tight end, Fauria is essentially Scott Chandler in a better passing offense playing fewer snaps. Fauria has been a 35.7% player the past two weeks. Use him at your own risk. ... Working in Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew's Week 8 favor, admittedly, is the Cowboys' allowance of the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends. No defense has surrendered more tight end catches.
Fighting for scraps opposite Megatron, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, and Ryan Broyles are essentially canceling each other out of fantasy consideration. Durham is playing the most snaps. Ogletree had the most Week 7 yards (50). Broyles maintains the most long-term potential. ... Stafford's target distribution since Megatron returned two games ago: Johnson 23, Durham 21, Reggie Bush and Pettigrew 11, Fauria 7, Joique Bell and Broyles 6. ... So based on the target numbers, Durham would be the best Week 8 roll of the dice among Detroit's complementary wideouts. ... You're obviously starting Calvin, but it's noteworthy that the Cowboys have excelled at containing opposing No. 1 wideouts. The last five top receivers they've faced: DeSean Jackson 3-21, Demaryius Thomas 5-57, Pierre Garcon 6-69, Keenan Allen 5-80, Chris Givens 2-54. Dallas hasn't allowed a "No. 1" receiver to find pay dirt since Dwayne Bowe in Week 2. If the Cowboys assign double teams and brackets to slow down Megatron, Bush could be the primary statistical beneficiary. Dallas ranks 13th in run defense and allows 4.33 yards per carry, the eighth most generous clip in football. So Bush is already entering this game with a fairly attractive matchup. ... Pace-change back Bell hasn't reached double-digit targets since September. Although Bell maintains elite stash/handcuff value, he isn't much of a standalone week-to-week flex option.
Score Prediction: Lions 30, Cowboys 28
San Francisco vs. Jacksonville
Sunday's Jaguars-Niners game will be played at London's Wembley Stadium, where the Vikings downed the Steelers 34-27 in a Week 4 game as 827 total yards were generated by two teams that rank in the NFL's bottom 20 in total offense. We've learned over the years that there are no bankable trends in these London games. They actually tend to be more high scoring than expected. ... The Jaguars enter Week 8 with very little chance of competing against a front-end NFL team like San Francisco. Game in and game out, fantasy owners of Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts can comfortably count on garbage-time passing. I particularly like Blackmon's Week 8 matchup with 49ers LCB Tramaine Brock. Although Brock has played well this season, man-child Blackmon will have a major physical advantage on San Francisco's 5-foot-10, 197-pound nickel back. ... Chad Henne is averaging 38.5 pass attempts per start, a top-ten clip in football. While Henne isn't trustworthy beyond desperate two-QB-league scenarios, the stat is a reminder that he can keep Blackmon and Shorts fed due to volume and the pass-happy comeback mode factors. ... Henne's target distribution since Blackmon came off suspension three games ago: Blackmon 38, Shorts 23, Mike Brown 13, Clay Harbor 8, Maurice Jones-Drew 7, Justin Forsett 4.
Brown has overtaken injury-prone, ineffective rookie Ace Sanders as the Jags' third receiver and delivered career highs in catches (5) and targets (120) in last week's loss to the Chargers. The former Liberty University quarterback's game was highlighted by a 43-yard catch and run. Brown ran a 4.69 forty at 5-foot-11, 205 at his March 2012 Pro Day. I'd be surprised if Week 7 doesn't go down as easily the best game of his 2013 season. ... Marcedes Lewis finally returned to the lineup as a near-full-time player against San Diego, playing 51-of-62 snaps and seeing three targets. He secured one up the seam, breaking several tackles en route to a 31-yard gain. The Jaguars used Lewis primarily as a receiver in his first game back, but that could change this week against San Francisco's ferocious defense. The 49ers rank in the top five of Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics, and have allowed the tenth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Here are the rushing stat lines of the last four enemy lead backs to face the Niners: Chris Johnson 9-39-0; Rashard Mendenhall 10-40-0; Arian Foster 21-98-0; Daryl Richardson 12-16-0. The 49ers haven't been quite as statistically stout as in past years, but they effectively curb opposing rushing success by blowing out opponents. I think it's a good bet they'll blow out the Jags. MJD is a weak flex option.
"The more he runs, the better off they are." That was ESPN analyst Bill Polian's take on the 49ers' offense and Colin Kaepernick this week, and it's difficult to argue. Teams with dual-threat quarterbacks around the NFL opened the year using their signal callers conservatively, perhaps for fear of injury. The Niners, Panthers, Seahawks, and Redskins have opened things up since, and over the past five weeks have a combined 14-5 record. In Week 7 against Tennessee, Kaepernick set a season high in rushes (11) and gained 68 yards, including a 20-yard scoring explosion down the left sideline. Kaepernick's fantasy numbers have still been limited by the 49ers' propensity for blowout wins, therefore asking less of their quarterback. Kap's week-to-week upside remains intact, but he needs opponents to begin playing more competitively. The Jags probably won't do that, making Kaepernick a borderline QB1 in Week 8. ... Offensive centerpiece Frank Gore is on an absolute tear since his predictably short-lived slow start. He's totaled 100 yards and/or scored a touchdown in five straight games, and is fantasy football's No. 5 overall running back over that span. Consider Gore a locked-in RB1 play against Jacksonville's last-ranked run defense, which has shelled out 4.63 yards per carry and a league-high nine rushing touchdowns. Gore has rushed for 487 yards and four TDs on his last 97 carries (5.02 YPC).
Kaepernick's target distribution since Vernon Davis' hamstring healed three weeks ago: Davis 25; Anquan Boldin 20; Jon Baldwin and Bruce Miller 4; Gore, Vance McDonald, and Kyle Williams 3; Kendall Hunter 1. ... The Jaguars have allowed the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends and gave up nine receptions to Chargers TEs in Week 7. Only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron have scored more fantasy points at the position than Davis. ... This is a slightly tougher matchup for Boldin than meets the eye because Gus Bradley's defense prides itself on physical press-man coverage, which Boldin sometimes struggles to beat. Bradley admitted openly after last week's 24-6 loss to San Diego, however, that he's concerned with the effort of his 0-7 team. Perhaps Boldin's greatest strength at this stage of his career is effort. I think he's a rock-solid WR3. ... The Niners lack attractive fantasy options beyond Kap, Gore, Davis, and Boldin. Williams has started over Baldwin the past two weeks, with one 14-yard catch to show for it. This team is thirsting for Mario Manningham (knee, PUP), which says a lot about the decimated state of San Francisco's wide receiver corps. Manningham will most likely return in Week 10, after the Week 9 bye.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Jaguars 14