'The NFL Beat': Week 8
Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears
Panthers QB Cam Newton came into Week 8 of the 2011 season boasting nearly 30 fantasy points a game. Coming into Week 8 of 2012, things look decidedly different through the eyes of a new breed of Newton owner. The kind that selected him in the first or second round of their fantasy drafts, as opposed to the opportunistic bunch that recognized upside and acquired Newton off of waivers or extremely late in drafts last season.
Newton has delivered the most inconsistent and infuriating weekly average of 16.69 fantasy points imaginable. This is now officially a sophomore slump, and the Bears defense is brutal on opposing QBs, especially those with weak interior offensive lines like Carolina. I don't like any Panthers in this game and I expect Bears WR Brandon Marshall to have one of his biggest days of the season.
San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns
Don't look now, but Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden is off to an NFL start that has him on pace to throw for 4,000 yards this season. Approximately the number of jobs lost weekly in the city known as the "Factory of Sadness." Rookie WR Josh Gordon is coming on and looking like the better NFL player to start than his much more heralded Baylor teammate Kendall Wright of the Titans. If Gordon is available in your league, he shouldn't be.
I love all the WRs in this game for both teams, and would risk taking a peek at Chargers RB Ronnie Brown in PPR leagues if you are hurting during the bye weeks. I see this game playing out in a manner that will be conducive to production via the threat of the halfback dumpoff to keep Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson honest, and that is a role in which Brown has been getting heavily involved. Very sneaky play this week.
Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions
Lions WR Calvin Johnson is the best in the business and he has only caught one TD pass this season. To make things worse, that pass didn't even come from QB Matt Stafford. It came from Shaun Hill while Stafford was on the sidelines with an injury that was initially feared more serious than it turned out to be. If all this wasn't bad enough, now the Lions welcome the Seahawks, my absolute worst matchup against opposing WRs with their two 6-feet, 4-inch corners in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
Don't get tricky this week and start Lions WR Titus Young simply because he will be stepping into the role vacated by recently injured Nate Burleson opposite Megatron. While I like the pickup for rest-of-season purposes, I would steer clear of this matchup, and in the event I had to play one Lions WR other than Johnson, I would likely choose rookie Ryan Broyles who is much more widely available, and better suited to make a big play against the pieces the Seahawks currently have in place.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers
This is why they play the game. Because on paper, this looks like a joke. Jags QB Blaine Gabbert is far from good to begin with, and he is injured. The one steady piece to the whole organization, RB Maurice Jones-Drew is out, and will be for some time. I do like his backup, Rashad Jennings, this week to get plenty of garbage time action in the passing game as the Jags will be playing desperately from behind against softer coverages, and I believe that WR Cecil Shorts will get open for at least one big shot.
I like every Packer in this game with the exception of TE Jermichael Finley, but be aware that recently re-invigorated Packers WR Jordy Nelson is very questionable to play Sunday. If Nelson does not go, it bumps up the values of James Jones and Randall Cobb in the absence of both Nelson and Greg Jennings. A Nelson-less scenario for the Packers offense in Week 8 also lines up perfectly for a touchdown swindle out of old man Donald Driver who is certainly available in your league if you are looking for a sleeper play at WR.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
The Dolphins are a stiff front seven defensively, and regardless of his recent fantasy exploits against suspect run defenses, I am nowhere near sold on Jets RB Shonn Greene, and will encourage you to attempt selling high on him while you still can.
I like both Jets WRs Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill in this matchup as the Jets will struggle to establish the run. Dolphins RB Reggie Bush, however, is due for a breakout. Some Jets talk this week has given Bush a bit of chalkboard material, and he is not a player I want "playing motivated" as an opponent in a division matchup coming off a bye.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Everyone knows that if you flip a coin 13 times and they all hit heads, the chances of the 14th toss hitting heads is still 50/50. Each coin flip is a mutually exclusive event, just like every NFL game. Eagles HC Andy Reid has gone 13-0 since 1999 coming off of bye weeks. A set of outcomes, that if taken as a whole, represent a one in 8,112 chance of occurring as they have.
I like the Eagles to beat the Falcons this week, and I love Eagles RB LeSean McCoy this week more than I have all season. I predict a Top 3 performance from McCoy at the RB position given the Falcons' troubles against the run.
Washington Redskins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Get all Pittsburgh WRs as well as TE Heath Miller in your lineups. This will be a big week for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Week 8 also marks the first week that rookie Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and the zone-option attack that Washington has so successfully employed through the start of his career will face a 3-4 defense.
This is important. In a 3-4 you have athletic outside linebackers tasked with QB contain as opposed to bigger, 5-technique 4-3 ends who are often suited to even move inside. The Steelers defense is not what it used to be, but I am a little bit worried about RG3 in Week 8.
New England Patriots at St. Louis Rams
London. They are finally going to get a good one, and I'm going to go off the script here and let you in on one of my "gut" rules: Every time I have watched a game played in London, the images that get conjured up in my memory are those of understandably soccer-hooligan-ish Brits waving unfamiliar looking flags, and NFL place kickers bombing long field goals in front of a crowd that loves exhibitions of a sport in which the ball is struck by the foot.
I have never once mentioned a kicker in "The NFL Beat," but this week is different. Pats K Stephen Gostkowski and Rams K Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein should both produce RB2-like numbers this week in your kicker slot.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
When we look back at this game, I see the stars being Colts WR Reggie Wayne and Titans RB Chris Johnson. If you are a Johnson owner, hold onto him for this one last week, and then move him like he was yesterday's garbage.
Do you remember how you felt at the beginning of the season? When he was putting up three points a week for you? That won't happen again this week, but will soon. Make your hay this week, then sell, sell, sell.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
An AFC West matchup featuring two teams in complete and total disarray. I actually like numerous players in this game to take advantage of their opponents' respective defensive deficiencies.
Start all skill players in this game as you normally would, and if you are looking for a sneaky flex play, consider Raiders FB Marcel Reece, especially in PPR leagues.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
It's about time Cowboys WR Miles Austin had a monster game, and this could be it. Something keeps nagging at the back of my mind regarding this matchup, though. If you will recall, in Week 1, third WR Kevin Ogletree jumped off the map against these same Giants and caused riots on Week 2 fantasy waiver wires.
Ogletree has likely been dropped in your league by now, after having been virtually useless all season since. Sneaky waiver play in Week 8 if you're having bye-week issues.
New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos
Lots of stars are lining up in this one, and it is the perfect game to sit back and enjoy on a Sunday night. Tell your children their homework and silly games like "throwing the ball with Dad" aren't important. Tell your wife you will do the dishes when she loses 15 pounds.
Take some time for yourself and enjoy an offensive explosion in which I would not bench one single skill player. Viable fantasy options in your league who may be available in this, likely the best matchup of Week 8 for fantasy production are: Broncos WR Brandon Stokeley, Broncos TE Joel Dreessen, and Saints WR Devery Henderson.
I'm so sorry, Arizona. I'm also sorry for any fantasy owner who has a stake in this game, other than those who roster 49ers RB Frank Gore. Spend Sunday Night enjoying football, but make sure to leave Monday open for apologizing while this NFC West snoozer plays out.
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and founder of RosterWatch.]