It’s Week 8 of the NFL season, which also marks the halfway point of the bye weeks. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, all teams will have gotten their one-week respite, which means fantasy owners will only have to worry about injuries or a coach’s decision keeping their main players off of the field. Until then, four teams will be on bye each of the next four weeks, which means there are still plenty of who’s in, who’s out questions that need to be answered.
Athlon Sports is here to help you make all of those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, NFL.com or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.
Bye week teams: Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston
Sneaky Start of the Week
Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis at Tennessee
Ballard was handed the Colts’ starting job after Donald Brown was sidelined because of knee surgery. Brown’s closer to returning, but if Ballard can build on his performance from last week, the Colts' backfield will be that much deeper.
Ballard’s first career start against the Jets was entirely forgettable (8 att., 25 yds.), but he bounced back nicely last week against Cleveland. The rookie out of Mississippi State had 84 yards rushing on 20 carries (4.2 ypc), including a long of 26.
He will have the opportunity to take the next step this week against Tennessee. The Titans are 28th in the league in rush defense (134.7 ypg) and are allowing the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. The fewest fantasy points the Titans have given up to any team’s backfield so far is 16.7 to the Vikings in Week 5.
Surprise Sit of the Week
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City vs. Oakland
As bad as Matt Cassel has been this season, there’s no guarantee new starter Brady Quinn will fare any better. Quinn threw for just 180 yards and two interceptions in his first start in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, but he will get another shot this Sunday at home against Oakland.
Coming off of the bye week, the Chiefs decided to stick with Quinn rather than going back to Cassel. As of right now, the safest fantasy bet in KC is probably Jamaal Charles. After that it’s play-at-your-own-risk when it comes to the Chiefs and that includes Bowe, their No. 1 wide receiver.
Bowe’s numbers weren’t spectacular with Cassel under center, but two weeks ago with Quinn pulling the trigger he had just three catches (on nine targets) for only 25 yards. Prior to that game, Bowe was averaging 13.6 yards per reception.
Bowe is more of a vertical threat than a possession-type of receiver, and Quinn’s 4.7 ypc average (180 yards on 22 completions), which is what he produced against the Buccaneers, does not bode well for the wideout’s fantasy outlook.
Philip Rivers (SD) at Cleveland
I am fully aware that Rivers turned the ball over six times (4 INTs, 2 fumbles) the last time he played. That said, just as I stated last week, I still believe in Rivers, especially given who he will be facing on Sunday, Cleveland. The Browns are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and only two starters have scored fewer than 24.6 points against them. The turnovers are certainly frustrating and something that will hopefully be corrected, but if the Browns’ track record is any indication, Rivers should be able to bounce back this week.
Carson Palmer (OAK) at Kansas City
Take out his Week 4 showing against Denver and Palmer is averaging 21 fantasy points per game. That average over those five games would be eighth among all quarterbacks for the season, higher than Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Michael Vick and Cam Newton, to name a few. The lack of touchdown passes (7) is what is really holding Palmer’s fantasy production back, but this could change against Kansas City. The Chiefs have given up 13 touchdown passes compared to just four interceptions.
Brandon Weeden (CLE) vs. San Diego
Weeden has put together a streak of three productive outings in which he has averaged 20.8 fantasy points during this stretch. He could make it four in a row on Sunday as San Diego is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The Chargers have surrendered 14 touchdown passes in six games, with half of these coming in their last two games. Granted, Weeden isn’t anything close to the level of a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, but as long as he plays like he has been lately (6 TDs, 3 INTs last three games), he should be able to post some decent numbers against the Chargers at home.
Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. Seattle
It’s been brought up before, but needs to be reiterated. Through his first six games last season, Stafford had thrown 13 touchdown passes compared to just four interceptions. After six games this season, that ratio reads 5:6. To put it another way, Stafford had at least two touchdown passes in his first six games of the 2011 season. He is still looking for his first game with at least two scoring strikes this season. And I wouldn’t count on it coming this Sunday either considering that Seattle has given up a total of five touchdown passes in seven games. The Seahakws have already played (and beaten) Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Tony Romo.
Alex Smith (SF) at Arizona (Monday)
Smith started the season strong, posting back-to-back 22-point games, but outside of his 35-point explosion against Buffalo in Week 5, his production has plummeted. Smith has scored fewer than 14 fantasy points in four of his past five games, including just 2.5 in a Week 6 loss to the Giants. It seems that the coaching staff is showing less faith in Smith and the passing game lately, and his case isn’t helped any by the fact that Arizona is giving up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Unless the 49ers play the Bills again, it’s probably safest to go with someone other than Smith at quarterback.
John Skelton (ARI) vs. San Francisco (Monday)
Skelton won the starting job in Arizona in the preseason, but suffered an ankle injury in the Cardinals’ Week 1 win over Seattle. He got his job back finally in Week 7 as Kevin Kolb went down with a rib injury against Buffalo the previous week. Kolb hasn’t had much chance to show what he’s capable of, but unless his offensive line can do a better job of protecting him (NFL-worst 35 sacks allowed) it won’t matter. The match up with San Francisco, the league’s No. 3 defense against the pass, doesn’t help Skelton’s fantasy outlook either.
Willis McGahee (DEN) vs. New Orleans
Believe it or not, but McGahee is 14th among his position in fantasy scoring, ahead of Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush, among others. McGahee has obviously been overshadowed by Peyton Manning’s Denver debut, but it’s not like the Broncos have stopped running the ball either. McGahee has at least 14 carries in every game but one and better yet he has New Orleans on tap. The Saints are 31st in the league against the run (161 ypg) and Manning is smart enough to exploit a weakness in a defense when he sees it. I think McGahee will be both busy and productive this Sunday night.
Rashad Jennings (JAC) at Green Bay
Maurice Jones-Drew will likely miss several games with a sprained foot. MJD's injury opens the door for his backup, Jennings, who himself missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury. The Jaguars also could be without starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last week, leaving Chad Henne under center against Green Bay. Either way, Jennings should get his chance to carry the load and the Packers have been somewhat susceptible to the run (109.9 ypg, 17th overall). This also is a guy who averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2009-10 combined. May as well find out what he can do, right?
Jonathan Dwyer (PIT) vs. Washington
Who needs Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman when you’ve got Dwyer. All Dwyer did was rush for a team season-high 122 yards on 17 carries in last week’s win In Cincinnati. Prior to that, the most any Steeler had rushed for in a game was 81 yards by Mendenhall in Week 5 against Philadelphia. There’s a chance that Mendenhall (Achilles) and Redman (ankle) could play this Sunday against Washington, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mike Tomlin turned to Dwyer to carry the load once again. The Redskins have done a good job against the run, but I’m not going to bet against Dwyer, who you know will be fired up as he wants to show the coaching staff why he should remain the Steelers’ lead back.
Steven Jackson (STL) vs. New England (London)
Having produced seven straight 1,000-yard seasons, Jackson definitely has some tread on the tires, and it looks like it may be catching up to him this season. He has 380 yards rushing in seven games, which puts him on pace for 869 for the entire season. That’s not horrible by any stretch, but couple his reduced production with just one touchdown and you get the No. 26 running back in fantasy football. Injuries have played a role in his “decline” this season, as has the presence of backup Daryl Richardson. Worse for Jackson is the fact that New England is eighth in the league against the rush and have given up just two touchdowns to opposing running backs this season.
Trent Richardson (CLE) vs. San Diego
On paper, the conditions seemed right for Richardson to have his first breakout game as a rookie last week against Indianapolis. Or at least that’s what I thought. Instead of a breakout, however, what everyone saw was pretty much a breakdown, as Richardson’s rib injury was worse than he let on, resulting in him producing a measly eight yards rushing on as many carries. It got so bad that Richardson ended up getting benched for the second half as Montario Hardesty (7 att., 28 yds.) took over and finished the game. The coaching staff has already voiced their concern about Richardson's status for this week, so there’s a chance he may not even see the field this Sunday. Plus considering San Diego is allowing the fewest rushing yards per game in the league, this is shaping up to be a good week to leave the rookie on your bench.
DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Chicago
Changes are coming in Carolina and I’m not jsut talking about the general manager who got fired earlier this week. There have been signs that the Panthers are changing their offense to feature more of a power running game with Jonathan Stewart assuming lead back duties. This certainly appeared to be the case last week against Dallas as Stewart led the way with 10 carries, while Williams got a total of two. He had only six carries the game prior that and for the season has a total of 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Panthers have a lot of money invested in Williams, but it doesn’t look like he’s a big part of their current offensive plans.
Demaryius Thomas (DEN) vs. New Orleans
Thomas is a big target (6’3, 229) who also can get his fair share of yards after the catch. His 16.9 ypc average is ninth in the league, while his 269 yards after the catch (YAC) is third. He’s tied for the league lead with 12 receptions of 20 or more yards, and there’s no reason to think he won’t add to this total on Sunday night against New Orleans. For one, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is on a roll with three straight 300-3 games and two, the Saints are allowing the third-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and 13.6 yards per reception. Besides Thomas, I also like fellow wideout Eric Decker to have a good game, although the same can’t be said for a Broncos tight end (see below)
Randall Cobb (GB) vs. Jacksonville
Over the past three games, Cobb is averaging 91 yards receiving per contest and the second-year pro from Kentucky caught two scoring strikes last week against the Rams. Considering the Packers have thrown the ball 41 more times compared to rush attempts in their last four games combined, there’s little reason to think Cobb won’t continue to get his chances. Not to mention that the Packers, who are on a nice little roll offensively, welcome the lowly Jaguars to Lambeau Field this Sunday.
Brandon Gibson (STL) vs. New England (London)
As good as New England has been against the run (eighth), the Patriots have been just as bad when it comes to pass defense. The Pats are 29th in the NFL in this category, allowing 290 yards per game through the air. They have given up 16 touchdown passes and just had Mark Sanchez light them up for 328 yards passing last week. The Rams will more than likely have to throw the ball to keep up against the Patriots, and given the numbers, Sam Bradford should have some success doing so. Gibson has become Bradford’s No. 1 option in place of the injured Danny Amendola, so he should be in prime position to capitalize against a defense that’s allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
Michael Crabtree (SF) at Arizona (Monday)
Not surprisingly, Crabtree has pretty much gone as his quarterback, Alex Smith has gone (see above). Outside of a seven-catch, 113-yard game against Buffalo in Week 5, Crabtree has a total of 15 receptions for 112 yards and no scores in his four other games dating back to Week 3. He has only one touchdown on the season (came against the Bills) and is facing a 49ers defense this Monday night that has given up two touchdown receptions to opposing wide receivers. Smith isn’t a smart play this week and I think the same goes for Crabtree.
Brian Hartline (MIA) at New York Jets
It was only about a month ago when Hartline was one of football’s best early surprises after his 12-catch, 253-yard performance against Arizona. In his two games since, he’s caught a total of four passes and all of those came in Week 5 against Cincinnati. He didn’t catch a single pass in Miami’s last game against St. Louis, and this week he will face a Jets’ defense that’s allowing the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. This includes a Week 3 game against the Jets in which Hartline had one catch for 41 yards. This doesn’t mean Hartline’s still not a good story, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to start him this week.
Andre Roberts (ARI) vs. San Francisco (Monday)
Roberts is coming off of a game in which he caught seven passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, and he’s No. 13 among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. The problem I see, however, with using Roberts this week comes in the form of San Francisco’s defense. Not only are the 49ers surrendering the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers period, they really aren’t permitting teams’ secondary receivers, such as Roberts, to do much of anything. With the exception of Week 1 (Green Bay), all 12 wide receivers not listed as No. 1 on their team’s depth chart that have played against the 49ers (and caught at least one pass) have scored a combined 46.9 fantasy points. That’s an average of 3.9 per wideout. I’m not saying Roberts can’t break this pattern, but between the 49ers’ track record and the problems the Cardinals’ offensive line has had protecting their quarterback (see John Skelton, above), let’s just say I don’t like his chances.
Martellus Bennett (NYG) at Dallas
Bennett got off to an extremely strong start the first three games, a stretch that began with him going 4-40-1 against Dallas in Week 1. Bennett hasn’t been as productive since Week 4, but some of this can be blamed on a knee injury. He seems completely healthy once again after catching five passes for 79 yards against Washington last week. He’ll get another shot at tormenting his former team on Sunday, and it’s against a Cowboys’ defense that will be without leading tackler and signal-caller Sean Lee.
Brandon Myers (OAK) at KC
Myers has seen 17 targets combined in the last two games. He has turned those targets into 12 receptions for 106 yards. The only thing missing from his stat sheet this season is a touchdown. With as much trust as Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer has shown Myers (team-high 10 targets last week), I think that changes this Sunday in Kansas City.
Jared Cook (TEN) vs. Indianapolis
The Titans have won two games in a row, but Cook hasn’t necessarily played a big role in either of those victories. He’s had just six catches for 91 yards combined in those last two games. His diminishing presence in the offense could have something to do with the re-emergence of Chris Johnson and the running game. If that’s the case, don’t expect much more from Cook this week either as the Titans host Indianapolis and its 26th-ranked rush defense. On top of that, the Colts are allowing the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Jacob Tamme (DEN) vs. New Orleans
Tamme is getting a fair share of catches (has 23, on pace for 61), but as everyone knows, Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning likes to spread the ball around. Being a tight end, Tamme’s best opportunity to produce would appear to be the red zone, but teammate Joel Dreessen has seemingly taken that role away from Tamme. Dreessen has three touchdown catches (compared to just one for Tamme), and all of them have come once the Broncos reach the opponent’s 20-yard line. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure either tight end will get many red zone looks in this game, as the Saints have allowed just one touchdown reception to a tight end, but if I had to pick a Bronco tight end to play, it would be Dreessen and not Tamme.
Green Bay vs. Jacksonville
Even though the Packers’ DST has scored just 62 fantasy points, good for 17th among the position, what’s not to like about this match up with Jacksonville? The Jaguars are last in the league in total, passing and scoring offense. They also may be without starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and even if he does play he will be doing so with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Did I mention the game is at Lambeau Field?