4:05PM ET Games
Pittsburgh @ Oakland
The Week 7 bye came at an ideal time for Oakland's offense, allowing C Stefen Wisniewski (knee) to get healthy in addition to Darren McFadden (hamstring). Approaching the stretch run of his contract year, McFadden has an opportunity at a big finish with a favorable schedule over the next six weeks that begins Sunday against Pittsburgh's No. 19 run defense, which has yielded six rushing TDs through six games. McFadden has averaged 18.5 touches in the four 2013 contests he's played start to finish. Lost amid DMC's durability concerns is Terrelle Pryor's impact on his team's running game. The Raiders rank fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (4.67), and dual-threat Pryor's mere presence can cause defensive linemen to either freeze or abort gaps, clearing alleys. McFadden is an intriguing trade target and quality RB2 against the Steelers. ... Pryor gets a tougher draw against Pittsburgh's top-four pass defense, which has limited enemy quarterbacks to five passing scores in six games, and the sixth stingiest yards-per-pass-attempt average in football. Steelers-Raiders is tied for the second lowest over-under of Week 8 at 40.5 points. Pryor should remain a fixture in two-QB-league lineups, but this isn't the week to QB1 stream him.
Pryor's 2013 targets: Denarius Moore 37, Rod Streater 26, Mychal Rivera 15, McFadden 13, Marcel Reece 12, Brice Butler 10, Jacoby Ford 9, Rashad Jennings 5. ... Moore has clearly ascended atop the Raiders' pass-game pecking order. He's on pace for career highs in catches (67), yards (1,064), and touchdowns (11), and is currently the No. 18 fantasy wideout in per-game scoring. Moore will run most of his routes at Steelers RCB Ike Taylor on Sunday. Pro Football Focus has graded 33-year-old Taylor 89th among 107 qualifying corners in coverage this season. Moore is an every-week WR3. ... The Raiders' offense runs the football too much to support more than one starting-caliber fantasy pass catcher, leaving possession wideout Streater as a WR5. Dating back to 2012, Streater has scored one touchdown over his last ten games. He's averaging 40.8 yards per game the past six weeks. ... It seems like every week the Raiders "promise" to involve Reece more as a ball handler. We're still waiting. He's exceeded four offensive touches in one game this year, and it was when McFadden couldn't play in Week 5 against the Chargers.
Although he didn't find pay dirt and hasn't since Week 4, Le'Veon Bell's Week 7 effort against a Baltimore defense that entered the game ranked No. 7 versus the run confirmed he is a plus NFL starter and Steelers building block moving forward. Bell was outstanding on the ground, averaging a season-high 4.89 yards per carry and playing 47-of-59 snaps (79.7%). Bell shed 20 pounds this spring following his final year at Michigan State. It's showing, as he's a quicker-twitch mover now with deceptive shake and nimble feet. In an improving Pittsburgh offense with his bye out of the way, Bell has RB1 upside going forward. Oakland ranks No. 9 versus the run, but coughed up 138 total yards and two touchdowns to Jamaal Charles in its last game. This could be the start of a hot stretch for Bell, who faces the run defenses of New England (No. 31), Buffalo (28th), and Detroit (23rd) over the following three weeks. Bell's perceived value hasn't yet caught up to his real-life value due to the brief TD drought. Target him in trades while he's still acquirable. ... The Raiders have been more vulnerable in the air than on the ground, ranking 16th in pass defense and tied for 23rd in sacks. They have a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against while allowing enemy passers to complete an AFC-high 68.3% of their throws. Ben Roethlisberger has been utilized as more of a game manager with Bell as the new centerpiece of OC Todd Haley's offense, but still has an attractive Week 8 matchup. I'd consider Big Ben a locked-in two-QB-league starter this week.
Roethlisberger's target distribution since Bell joined the lineup three games ago: Antonio Brown 31, Heath Miller 19, Emmanuel Sanders 16, Jerricho Cotchery 10, Bell 9, Derek Moye 2. ... The epitome of consistency, Brown has secured at least six passes in five consecutive games and is the No. 9 overall fantasy receiver scorer over that span despite having a bye week mixed in. He is an every-week WR2. ... Although Miller is catching the football efficiently and blocking well in the run game, the Steelers' recent scaling back of pass attempts limits his value to low-end TE1. Big Ben has only averaged 26.5 pass attempts per game since Pittsburgh emerged from its Week 5 open date. This was the offense Haley envisioned before the season: Ball control with Le'Veon at the forefront in an effort to preserve Roethlisberger's body. ... Sanders is now the third option in Pittsburgh's passing attack. His target total has dropped in three consecutive weeks. He's a WR4.
Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Raiders 20
NY Jets @ Cincinnati
Jets-Bengals reeks of a low-scoring slugfest between teams that both rank among the top nine in total defense. New York's capability of eliminating opposing run games is going to put an awful lot on Andy Dalton's plate, creating situations where he historically has not excelled. Dalton deserves kudos for back-to-back productive weeks, but he's now facing the best defense he's dealt with all year. Dalton has never seen a Rex Ryan-designed scheme. In standard leagues, don't go chasing Dalton's Weeks 6-7 stats into this game. ... Bill Belichick's aversion to run the football on the Jets last week (46:20 pass-to-run ratio) speaks volumes about New York's defensive strength. The Patriots installed Brandon Bolden as their primary back and attacked the Jets in spread looks. If the Bengals copy that approach, expect a lot more of Giovani Bernard than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Enemy lead back stats versus the Jets' No. 2 run defense this season: Doug Martin 24-65-1; Stevan Ridley 16-40-0; C.J. Spiller 10-9-0; Chris Johnson 15-21-0; Jacquizz Rodgers 14-43-2; Le'Veon Bell 16-34-0; Ridley 11-50-1. Plodding Law Firm will get swallowed up. ... The Jets are more vulnerable on the edges to fleet-footed, finesse scatbacks like Rodgers and Bernard, who can make coverage-deficient ILB David Harris look silly. Expect 14-plus touches from Gio in this game. I'd view Bernard as a solid RB2 in PPR and a plus flex starter in standard formats.
Beyond Bernard, the only other Bengal with an attractive Week 8 fantasy matchup is A.J. Green. Jets supposed top CB Antonio Cromartie is struggling mightily, ranking 107th of 107 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' cornerback coverage ratings. PFF has charted Cromartie with three touchdown passes allowed over his last four games. On a tear again, Green is the No. 5 overall fantasy receiver the past three weeks. ... Dalton's target distribution during his two-game hot stretch: Green 19, Bernard 13, Marvin Jones 11, Jermaine Gresham 9, Mohamed Sanu 8, Tyler Eifert 7, Green-Ellis 1. ... A critical figure in Dalton's likely-to-be-brief resurgence, Jones' Week 8 availability is in doubt due to a shoulder injury. This would be an underrated loss for the Bengals because Jones has been making plays in the passing game, whereas "starting" No. 2 receiver Sanu has not. ... The Jets are 16th in fantasy points permitted to tight ends, making for a middling matchup when it comes to Gresham and Eifert. Eifert caught a Week 7 touchdown pass -- the first of his NFL career -- but has seen more than five targets in just one game all season. More the every-down tight end of the two, Gresham is on pace for 64 catches and 627 scoreless yards.
Friday Update: Jones (shoulder) returned to practice Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday's sessions. While Jones isn't a reliable standalone fantasy option -- he's the Bengals' No. 3 receiver -- his return is positive news for Dalton's outlook as a two-quarterback-league play.
The Jets' offense won't have an easy go, either. The host Bengals rank No. 13 in pass defense and eighth versus the run, keying a team that has won five of its last six games. Geno Smith has looked like a franchise quarterback in clean pockets this year, but wildly turnover prone when pressured. Cincinnati has up-front personnel to generate overwhelming heat with Geno Atkins collapsing the interior at three technique, and LE Carlos Dunlap catching fire after a sluggish start. Smith is only worth fantasy consideration in two-quarterback leagues. Cincinnati's fantasy defense is a good play. ... Smith's target distribution since Santonio Holmes suffered his multi-week hamstring injury: Jeremy Kerley 23; Jeff Cumberland 16; Stephen Hill 15; David Nelson 10; Bilal Powell 7; Chris Ivory 2. ... Although slot receiver Kerley lacks big-play ability and is more useful to move the chains, he's predictably settled in as Smith's most reliable option and has led the Jets in targets in two of their last three games. Kerley gets a Week 8 matchup boost due to the absence of Bengals top CB Leon Hall, who covered the slot in all nickel formations. Expect to see 2012 first-round disappointment Dre Kirkpatrick in the slot role this week. At 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds, Kirkpatrick is bigger and leggier than a prototype inside corner. Kerley is set up for a solid game.
Although Hill's performance and target totals have been inconsistent, he too has plus man-to-man matchups with Bengals outside CBs Pacman Jones and Terence Newman. 35-year-old Newman is beginning to show his age. 30-year-old Jones has been a major liability, and goes 5-foot-10, 180 to Hill's 6-foot-4, 215. Hill is always a boom-or-bust roll of the dice, but there is reason to believe he can get behind Cincinnati's defense. ... The Bengals are 18th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, so this isn't a great matchup for Cumberland. Cumberland is a mid-level TE2. ... The Jets insisted publicly this week that Ivory's Week 7 domination of carries (34 to Powell's 3) was game-plan based, and that could be true as they scrounged up ways to exploit New England's Vince Wilfork-less defense. It worked, as Ivory banged out 104 yards and put the Patriots away in fourth-quarter clock-killing mode. Before the season -- and before his recurring hamstring woes -- the Jets envisioned a backfield where Ivory handled first and second downs, with Mike Goodson as his change-of-pace and third-down complement. Look for Powell in the latter role now, with Ivory handling 15-plus weekly runs. As alluded to above, this is not a great matchup for any ground game. But if the volume is there, Ivory is capable of capitalizing with BeastModian run skills. He's a respectable flex option. ... Powell's fantasy value is minimal in standard leagues, but he's worth hanging onto for PPR owners. Ivory certainly is not a great bet to stay healthy, and Powell's versatility will keep him involved. Powell just isn't on the fantasy-start radar this week.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Jets 17
4:25PM ET Games
Atlanta @ Arizona
Atlanta's defense has been a slump buster for pass games this year. Talent deficient and unable to muster up pass rush, the Falcons have allowed a combined 118-of-185 passing (63.8%) for 1,359 yards (7.35 YPA) and a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio to Mike Glennon, Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill, receiver-depleted Tom Brady, and Sam Bradford over their last five games. I'm well aware of how poorly Carson Palmer has played since the opener. I'm also aware his coach, Bruce Arians, is one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football, and is coming off a long week to make corrections. Back at home, I like Palmer as a two-quarterback-league option and sneaky desperation QB1 streamer in perhaps his most favorable matchup all year. ... The Falcons have been gashed in the slot, a trend that dates back to Week 2. Enemy slot receiver stats against Atlanta during that stretch: Tavon Austin 6-47-2; Brandon Gibson 6-49; Julian Edelman 7-118; Jeremy Kerley 5-68-1; Vincent Jackson 10-138-2. (V-Jax is not widely recognized as a slot receiver, but has seen 38 of his 75 targets in the slot this season, per PFF's Mike Clay.) Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald is playing 45% of his snaps at slot receiver. Returning from a ten-day layoff following last Thursday night's loss to Seattle, Fitzgerald's hamstring should be as healthy as it's been since September. Still a top-16 overall fantasy receiver, Fitzgerald is set up for a Week 8 bounce-back game.
Palmer's target distribution since Rob Housler returned from injury in Week 3: Fitz and Michael Floyd 40, Andre Ellington 27, Housler and Andre Roberts 19, Rashard Mendenhall 8, Jim Dray 7. ... Floyd has clearly emerged as Arizona's No. 2 pass-game option, putting him on the WR3 radar every week. He has a fairly difficult Week 8 matchup, however, against Falcons LCB Asante Samuel. Floyd is running the majority of his routes at opposing left corners. ... Neither are every-down players, but Housler's snaps have gone up as Roberts' have gone down. Housler has ascending TE2 value; it's just difficult to get excited about him this week against a Falcons defense allowing the ninth fewest receptions and yards to tight ends. ... Ellington can only be considered a dicey week-to-week flex until Arians commits to him as a featured part of the offense. Ellington has yet to play more than 32 snaps in any game, and his season-high for touches is 12. He has more value in PPR leagues due to his pass-game role, but Arians still isn't showing any signs of turning Ellington into a lead running back. ... Mendenhall has managed 156 yards on his last 62 carries (2.52 YPC), and is essentially entering BenJarvus Green-Ellis territory as a value-draining back whose payoff as a fantasy start is tied entirely to goal-line plunges, and is having a limiting effect on a superior talent in the same backfield. Mendenhall is and will continue to be a low-ceiling, undesirable flex option. Playing top-11 run defense, the Falcons have allowed two rushing TDs through six games.
Friday Update: Mendenhall missed practice Friday with a toe injury and is listed as doubtful to face Atlanta. Arians confirmed Ellington will start, but the Cardinals' coaching staff has been noncommittal on promoting him to a true feature back role, even with Mendenhall almost certain to be inactive. Stepfan Taylor, Ryan Williams, and Alfonso Smith will also be in the mix for carries. Ellington remains a flex play, but with increased attractiveness this week. Expect him to hover in the 14-16 touch range rather than the 7-12 he was previously seeing.
Atlanta's surprise Week 7 offensive explosion took place against a Bucs team that has already called it a season, so it'll be interesting to see whether the Falcons can continue to rack up points against competitive foes. The Vegas prognosticators aren't buying it, installing the Cardinals as 2.5-point favorites in Week 8. If Atlanta is going to have offensive success in this matchup, it'll likely be through the air. Arizona rushes the passer poorly and has allowed 13 passing TDs, ninth most in the NFL. I'd view Matt Ryan as a borderline QB1. I don't think last week's stats are a reliable indicator of what's to come for "Matty Ice." ... Ryan's targets in Atlanta's first game since the Week 6 bye: Jacquizz Rodgers 9, Harry Douglas 7, Tony Gonzalez 4, Darius Johnson 3, Brian Robiskie and Drew Davis 1. ... Expect a bounce-back game from Gonzalez after a slow Week 7. The Cardinals have allowed the most receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the league to tight ends. Not normally big passing-game contributors, Seahawks TEs combined for a 7-64-2 stat line against Arizona in their last game. ... In the absence of Julio Jones (foot) and Roddy White (ankle, hamstring), the Falcons' new three-receiver package has Douglas in the slot, Davis at Z (White's position), and Johnson at X (Julio's spot). Douglas was the featured receiver against Tampa and will likely keep that role moving forward. Because he runs so many routes as an inside slot receiver, Douglas should escape perimeter CB Patrick Peterson's coverage on a good dose of Sunday's snaps. View Douglas as a WR3, though I'd be skeptical he'll keep producing like he did last week. A sixth-year player, Douglas set a career high in yards (149) against the mutinous Bucs.
Davis is the Falcons' new No. 2 receiver. He played 43-of-48 snaps (89.6%) in Week 7, but was targeted just once. Little suggests Davis is worth adding in fantasy leagues. ... Johnson is the No. 3, playing Julio's old position in three-wide sets, with Douglas entering the slot. Johnson caught 2-of-3 targets for 24 yards against Tampa. ... Steven Jackson's expected return from a six-week hamstring injury will render Jacquizz Rodgers a situational passing-down back. Jason Snelling probably won't play against the Cardinals due to an ankle injury. When S-Jax was healthy in Week 1, he played 36 snaps and handled 16 touches compared to Quizz's 16 downs and three touches. So Rodgers isn't going to be much of a Week 8 fantasy option. … Jackson will probably be eased back in to some extent, and has a difficult matchup. Arizona ranks No. 7 versus the run, permits just 3.59 yards per carry, and has given up three rushing touchdowns through seven games. I own Jackson in one of my leagues and will start Zac Stacy over him.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 23, Falcons 21