Washington @ Denver
Redskins-Broncos sets up as a Week 8 shootout as Denver's No. 1 offense hosts Washington's No. 24 defense, which is surrendering the third most points per game in football and has missed more tackles than any team in the league. This sets up as a particularly big game for Knowshon Moreno. Change-of-pace back Ronnie Hillman lost a critical Week 7 goal-line fumble in Denver's 39-33 loss to Indianapolis, which figures to translate to more Week 8 work for the Broncos' lead runner. And the Skins are getting gashed by the run, serving up a league-high nine rushing scores on top of 4.64 yards per carry. The Bears lit them up for 140 yards and three TDs on 22 runs (6.36 YPC) last week. I'd rank Moreno as a top-five RB1 in this matchup. ... More reason to expect Week 8 Broncos rushing success is the Redskins' loss of in-the-box SS Brandon Meriweather (suspension). Skins RE Stephen Bowen will attempt to play through a torn PCL in his knee. A bad defense is now becoming depleted. ... Here is the Broncos' backfield touch distribution over the past three weeks: Moreno 64, Hillman 22, Montee Ball 12. ... I'd rather stash Ball than Hillman at this point. Hillman has fumbled in consecutive weeks and would only be a change-of-pace back in the event of a Moreno injury. The organization does not envision him as a lead-type runner. Ball has disappointed in real life and fantasy to this point, but I think he would get the majority of early-down and goal-line work if Moreno went down.
Friday Update: The Denver Post reported Friday Hillman will be scratched against the Redskins following his back-breaking Week 7 lost fumble, moving Ball and UDFA C.J. Anderson up the depth chart. Anderson outplayed Ball during the preseason, and is worth a stash in 14- and 16-team leagues. Hillman can be dropped. Ball remains the preferred Moreno handcuff, though not by much over Anderson. The handcuff situation in Denver has big potential fantasy implications because the next-man-up would be the lead back in the NFL's best offense if Moreno missed time.
Keep an eye on Peyton Manning against the Redskins. After taking a shot from Robert Mathis on a second-quarter safety last Sunday night, Manning's velocity and ball placement were noticeably diminished and he didn't seem to trust his arm on several throws. Manning went 7-of-10 (70.0%) for 92 yards (9.2 YPA) and two touchdowns before the hit. After it, he completed 22-of-39 (56.4%) for 294 yards (7.54 YPA), one score, and a pick. I'm not saying he's done, or that he is seriously injured. I'm just saying it's something to monitor because he was markedly less effective after the safety. ... Peyton's target distribution after Mathis' hit: Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker 10; Eric Decker 9; Moreno 6; Julius Thomas 5. ... So Manning didn't suddenly start locking onto a particular receiver. The Thomases, Welker, and Decker are all recommended Week 8 fantasy starts, as usual, against Washington's No. 22 pass defense. ... Decker, by the way, is the No. 2 overall fantasy receiver behind only Dez Bryant over the past five weeks. Welker is No. 4, and Demaryius is No. 8. Orange Julius is the No. 4 tight end behind only Jordan Cameron, Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis. So everyone involved is a locked-in, every-week fantasy starter.
Skins-Broncos has the week's highest over-under at 58.5 points. You want to play quarterbacks in high-scoring affairs, and this sets up as one with Robert Griffin III returning from his best game of 2013. Making incremental progress each week coming off January knee surgery, Griffin ran with explosion for the second straight game and passed with better ball placement than he has all year in Washington's Week 7 win over Chicago. More running from Griffin opens up the play-action game, making defenses easier to diagnose with "either-or" reads. RG3 is about to go on a roll. ... Griffin's targets since the Week 5 bye: Pierre Garcon 23; Jordan Reed 15; Leonard Hankerson 11; Roy Helu 8; Santana Moss 5; Aldrick Robinson 2; Josh Morgan and Alfred Morris 1. ... With RG3's passing improving and Washington's defense not -- Josh McCown came off the bench to move Chicago's offense with ease against them last week -- it's a great time to buy on Garcon, who hasn't scored a touchdown since September but has double-digit targets in 4-of-6 games and no fewer than seven targets in any week. That's not gonna change. The Redskins are a shootout team now, and Garcon plays the featured "X" position in Shanahan & Son's offense, which is the focal point of their passing attack. Enemy No. 1 receivers versus Denver's defense the past five weeks: Denarius Moore 6-124-1, DeSean Jackson 2-34, Dez Bryant 6-141-2, Justin Blackmon 14-190, Reggie Wayne 5-50 (torn ACL). Not many hiccups in there. Garcon is a high-ceiling WR2.
Reed has emerged as Washington's No. 2 pass option, playing the old Shannon Sharpe role for Shanahan, while Garcon holds down the Rod Smith-Brandon Marshall-Javon Walker fort. Denver has allowed the fifth most catches and fourth most yards to tight ends. ... Streak-route specialist Robinson caught two long balls in Week 7 at Chicago, including a 45-yard TD, but wasn't RG3's primary read on the score and has gone target-less in 4-of-6 games. He played 12 snaps against the Bears. Robinson is a boom-or-bust player who more often than not busts. ... Still rotating with Morgan at Z receiver, Hankerson isn't a big part of Washington's passing game, though he'd be a better WR3 bet than Robinson or Moss. Hankerson has big-play potential off play action. He's only averaging 5.5 targets per game, unfortunately. ... Since Washington's Week 5 bye, Morris has played 77 snaps with 35 touches, compared to Helu's 78 snaps and 22 touches. Helu always got a lot of playing time because he excels in the passing game and Morris doesn't, but the fact that the Redskins are now making a serious effort to put the ball in Helu's hands is a concern for Morris' owners. Morris is still running with elite efficiency -- 432 yards on his last 80 carries (5.40 YPC) -- but needs to be downgraded from RB1 to high-end RB2 for the time being. … Helu's three red-zone TDs can't be trusted from last week, but he's now squarely on the flex radar along with similarly-used backs like Danny Woodhead and Andre Ellington. Morris remains the back to own and use at Denver. Helu is more of a situational-football gamble. If the Redskins play a lot of “turbo” hurry-up offense and/or are trailing on the scoreboard, Helu could very well pay fantasy dividends.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Redskins 28
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ Minnesota
Vikings management gave up on Christian Ponder in September. They'll begrudgingly turn back to him this week after Josh Freeman's Monday night concussion. Expecting even a short-term spark from a quarterback with a sub-60% career completion rate and 37:39 all-purpose TD-to-INT ratio would be too bold, but Ponder couldn't possibly be worse than Freeman was against the Giants. Freeman could've faced Vanderbilt this week and I still wouldn't have considered him in a two-QB league. ... Ponder started Weeks 1-3. His target distribution: Jerome Simpson 21, Greg Jennings 19, Kyle Rudolph 18, Adrian Peterson 12, Jarius Wright 8, Cordarrelle Patterson 7, John Carlson 5, Toby Gerhart 4. ... Jennings is the lone Minnesota pass catcher I'd consider as a dice-roll fantasy start with Ponder back, mostly because Jennings is the Vikings' best, most consistent receiver. And that's not saying much. Simpson dropped a long would-be touchdown bomb against the Giants and remains an inefficient, maddening player to try to predict. ... Rudolph's stat lines in Ponder's 2013 starts: 2-27, 3-42-1, 5-28. Owners desperate enough to consider Rudolph could perhaps hang their hat on the fact that Green Bay has allowed the third most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Quarterback play remains a bigger obstacle than any matchup for Rudolph.
Patterson played a season-high 25 snaps in Week 7 and was primarily utilized on screen plays. He's got a long touchdown in him this season. I just have no idea when it'll come. He's a kickoff returner and No. 4 receiver behind Jennings, Simpson, and Wright. ... Simpson is more likely to be shut down by Green Bay CBs Sam Shields and Davon House, who put clamps on Josh Gordon in last week's win. Leave out the Detroit game because Calvin Johnson was inactive, and the Packers have held the following top-enemy perimeter receivers to the following stat lines: Gordon 2-21; Torrey Smith 1-2; A.J. Green 4-46-1. Simpson and Wright are the Vikings' top perimeter wideouts. A slot/Z receiver, Jennings has received 33 targets this year inside the numbers or within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, per PFF. Jennings has only been targeted outside the numbers downfield seven times, resulting in two completions. He's been a volume-possession receiver, which at least theoretically plays to Ponder's passing strengths. ... Peterson acknowledged this past Tuesday his tweaked hamstring felt "tight at times" against the Giants. For more on Peterson's going-forward outlook, I'd encourage you to listen to Sigmund Bloom's On The Couch podcast at this link. The podcast starts off with an in-depth Peterson discussion.
I'm not saying Jarrett Boykin is Wes Welker, and I'm not saying Jordy Nelson is Randy Moss. I'm saying Boykin could reap benefits similar to those Welker used to playing inside of Moss. Nelson's coverage-tilting magnetism will enhance with Jermichael Finley (spine) and Randall Cobb (fibula) out indefinitely, and James Jones (PCL sprain) week to week. Playing the old Cobb role, Boykin will gobble up short to intermediate targets because opponents will allow him to. And he plays in one of the most receiver-friendly offenses in football. I think Boykin is here to stay as an every-week candidate for 8-12 targets per game. I'd start him with excitement versus Minnesota's No. 29 pass defense. ... Minus Finley, the tight end-desperate Packers will turn to a rotation of in-line blocker Andrew Quarless and developmental project Brandon Bostick. Quarless managed three catches for 21 yards on five targets in a Week 3 spot start when Finley was concussed and can't be trusted in fantasy leagues until he actually does something. Bostick is a far more athletic onetime small forward at Newberry College who ran 4.59 at his 2012 Pro Day. Offering more upside than Quarless, Bostick is worth stashing as a TE2 in 14- and 16-team leagues, and should be rostered throughout Dynasty settings. Bostick is going to get an extended opportunity to shine.
Nelson is a top-ten real-life NFL receiver and top-five wideout in fantasy. He beat Joe Haden for a touchdown last week, the only end-zone trip Haden has allowed all season. You might want to start Nelson against the sorry Vikings defense. ... He's been an advised trade target in this space for weeks, but if the Eddie Lacy owner in your league still doesn't value him as an RB1, send in a two-for-one trade offer before Sunday. Lacy's bye is out of the way and he's headed for a wicked tear with Minnesota, Chicago, Philly, the Giants, Minnesota again, and Detroit on the forthcoming slate. A legit every-down back in Green Bay's No. 2 total offense, Lacy has played 84% of the Packers' backfield snaps over the past two weeks, and handled 85% of the running back touches. The Bettisian rookie set a career-high with five receptions last week. Lacy is going to carry fantasy teams to 2013 trophies. There aren't eight running backs I'd rather have rostered moving forward.
Score Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 17
Monday Night Football
Seattle @ St. Louis
St. Louis took major steps toward building its offense around Zac Stacy before Sam Bradford's ACL tear, scrapping spread looks in favor of run-friendly formations and turning No. 2 TE Lance Kendricks into an every-down player. While overall production is sure to take a hit with Kellen Clemens now quarterbacking, fantasy owners can still hang their hats on volume and Stacy's passing-game growth. Stacy's targets, receptions, and touches have increased every week since he was installed as a starter. It may sound crazy, but is true: He's emerged as the Rams' best player on offense. And they'll need him even more now. This is one of many difficult matchups Stacy will face the rest of the way, but he's going to get the ball a lot. And that gives him RB2/flex value, even if the quarterback downgrade caves in Stacy's ceiling. ... Otherwise, it's difficult to imagine the Rams generating offense against Seattle's No. 2 defense, which also ranks No. 2 versus the pass, fourth in sacks, second in interceptions, and second in passer rating allowed (66.1). This is a nightmare matchup for fill-in Clemens, whom I'll bet the Rams bench within a few weeks even if it's with practice squadder Austin Davis or a street free agent. In August, the Rams hoped Davis would beat out Clemens for Bradford's backup job. It didn't happen despite four preseason picks and a 48.9% completion rate from Clemens. This past week, the Rams tried luring Brett Favre off his tractor. OC Brian Schottenheimer has lots of history with Clemens from their Jets days, and the Rams are not high on him. It's very telling.
This sample size is obviously too small to be predictive, but Clemens targeted Jared Cook twice among his four pass attempts after replacing Bradford last week, and spread the remaining two amongst Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson. ... Matchups don't matter for pass catchers when their quarterback is incapable of moving the offense, and that's the most likely scenario Monday night versus Seattle. The rested Seahawks defense is coming off a long week after a Thursday night win. Beyond Stacy, playing any St. Louis skill-position player in a fantasy league is a total shot in the dark. ... Tavon Austin's role has been reduced by Schottenheimer due to the revised, run-heavy approach. He is not an effective blocking receiver. Austin did play 32 snaps in Week 7 -- his most since Week 4 -- but lost a fumble and had a 64-yard touchdown negated by penalty. I think fantasy owners should hang onto Austin as a WR5 just to see what happens, but he clearly can't be trusted as a Week 8 fantasy play. ... Look for Austin Pettis to tangle with LCB Richard Sherman on the majority of Monday night's snaps, while Givens takes on RCB Brandon Browner. The Rams' perimeter receivers will have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. ... Cook has not hit 50 yards or scored a touchdown since Week 1. He can be safely sent to fantasy waiver wires.
This one'll be played at the Edward Jones Dome, but is a game I think the Seahawks will have no trouble controlling. The Vegas prognosticators agree, installing Seattle as 11-point favorites on the road. The Seahawks play run-first offense and the Rams play soft run defense, allowing the third most rushing yards in football and seven rushing TDs through seven games. St. Louis just doesn't match up well with Seattle. These are Marshawn Lynch's last four stat lines against the Rams: 18-100; 20-118-1; 23-115-1; 27-88-1. ... Similar to their approach last year, the Seahawks opened the season utilizing Russell Wilson conservatively. They eventually loosened the reins and let Wilson be who he is -- a controlled playmaker who plays fast but doesn't hurry. The same is happening in 2013, only earlier in the year. Over the last five weeks, Wilson has a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging 63.2 rushing yards per game. Only Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees have scored more fantasy quarterback points than Wilson during that span. Wilson is a locked-in fantasy QB1 again. With Percy Harvin due back soon to upgrade the explosiveness of Seattle's receiver corps, Wilson can be trusted as an every-week starter the rest of the way. ... The Seahawks are publicly leaving Harvin's (hip, PUP) Week 8 availability to a game-time decision. My guess is he won't play, and even if he does would only play a handful of snaps. Owners should target Week 9 against Tampa for Harvin's fantasy debut.
Wilson's target distribution during his five-week hot run: Golden Tate 38, Sidney Rice 24, Doug Baldwin 20, Luke Willson 14, Lynch and Zach Miller 13, Jermaine Kearse 9, Robert Turbin 3. ... Noteworthy enemy wideout stats against St. Louis' leaky secondary: Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2; Andre Johnson 7-88. ... The stats suggest one Seahawks receiver will probably have a strong Monday night game. Seattle's run-dominated offensive style combined with Wilson's tendency to throw to the open man rather than pepper a "No. 1" wideout with targets typically prevents just that. If a Seattle receiver is to deliver, Tate is always the best bet because he's targeted the most and has big-play talent. I'd view Tate as a mid-range WR3. ... Otherwise, complementary pass catchers Rice, Baldwin, Willson/Miller, and Kearse are in a constant uphill battle for productive box-score numbers. With Harvin soon to return, I think there's a good argument to be made that Rice, Baldwin, Willson/Miller, and Kearse aren't even worth rostering.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 10