Disclaimer ... Before you start reading, please understand that we are not in the business of stating the obvious and wasting your time (or ours), so you won't be reading here why you need to start Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson or any other top-tier players. We're here to help you make a decision on players you are on the fence about.
Three of the four worst run defenses will be taking the week off in Week 8, so we will have to do some tricky navigating to get your team a big win. With that in mind, here are five players who have favorable matchups and five players who could struggle for your teams.
Get 'em active ...
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (vs. WAS)
Current own/start %: 99/63
I'd start him over: Matthew Stafford (vs. SEA), Jay Cutler (vs. CAR), Michael Vick (vs. ATL)
No team in the NFL has allowed more passing touchdowns than the Redskins, who have already surrendered 16 passing scores in 2012. The Redskins are also giving up a league-high 340 yards passing per game, so it should be no surprise that they are allowing 22.71 points per game to quarterbacks, sixth most in the league. No quarterback has thrown for less than 299 yards against the 'Skins and no quarterback has been held without a passing touchdown against them. Six out of seven quarterbacks who have faced the 'Skins have thrown for at least 310 yards, five have thrown for more than 325 yards and more importantly, five of the seven quarterbacks who have faced Washington have finished in the Top 12 for the week. Washington has really struggled with teams that have two good receivers and a top tight end, giving up 10 touchdowns and an average of 25.25 quarterback points per game to the four teams fitting that criteria. With Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and the resurgent Heath Miller, the Steelers definitely fit that bill and I am expecting a solid multiple touchdown day from Big Ben, who is a great starting option this week.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts (at TEN)
Current own/start %: 98/50
I'd start him over: Cam Newton (at CHI), Tony Romo (vs. NYG), Philip Rivers (at CLE)
The Tennessee Titans have given up at least 19 Fantasy points to every quarterback who has faced them this season. Six of those seven quarterbacks topped 20 Fantasy points and finished in the Top 12 points against the Titans who even busted the slump of Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 7. Luck has been a Top 12 quarterback himself in four of his last five games. Now, it is fair to point out that all of those good games have come at home, but I do think Luck will finally get lucky on the road in Week 8. In their three home games, the Titans have given up an average of 350 yards passing and two touchdowns per game, which has led to an average of 26.3 Fantasy points per game for the opposing quarterback. Luck is getting it done with his arm as well as his legs and his three goal line rushing scores are tied with Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III for the most at the quarterback spot. Look for the rookie to shake the road woes against the second most generous defense to quarterbacks this year (24.29 points per game), making him a great start.
Other QBs with favorable matchups: Bye Week Broski: Peyton Manning (vs. NO), Carson Palmer (at KC), Michael Vick (vs. ATL), Jay Cutler (vs. CAR), Philip Rivers (at CLE), Bye Week Broski: Christian Ponder (vs. TB), Brandon Weeden (vs. SD), Sam Bradford (vs. NE)
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos (vs. NO)
Current own/start %: 100/58
I'd start him over: Mikel Leshoure (vs. SEA), Darren Sproles (at DEN), Doug Martin (at MIN)
No team has allowed more running back points this year than the Saints, who have given up a league-high 26.0 per game. The Saints have allowed at least one runner to score 10 Fantasy points in every single game this year and already seven runners have produced double digits against this defense in just six games. Four runners have produced at least 17 points in a game against the Saints, who have produced at least one Top 15 running back in five of the six games against them this year. The Saints are giving up 131.67 yards (third most) and 1.17 rushing touchdowns (second) per game to the running back position in 2012 on 4.9 yards per carry (third). Not only are the Saints getting crushed by runners on the ground, but they are being victimized by them as receivers out of the backfield as well. The Saints are allowing six catches (seventh most) and 54 yards (also seventh) per game to running backs. That meshes very well for the new Willis McGahee, who has caught 15 passes in his last three games and is averaging 46.5 yards per game in his last two. Doug Martin ran wild on the Saints last week with 122 total yards and a score. In fact, the opposing starter has produced at least 122 total yards with a touchdown in back to back games against New Orleans. This is the week to let Willis "Roll Willie Roll" in your lineups in a high scoring Sunday night game.
Other RBs with favorable matchups: Chris Johnson (vs. IND), Jamaal Charles (vs. OAK), Darren McFadden (at KC), Reggie Bush (at NYJ), Darren Sproles (at DEN), Rashad Jennings (at GB), Ahmad Bradshaw (at DAL), Alfred Morris (at PIT), Stevan Ridley (at STL), Bye Week Broksis: Shonn Greene (vs. MIA), Vick Ballard (at TEN), Felix Jones (vs. NYG), Michael Bush (vs. CAR), Jamie Harper (vs. IND), Alex Green (vs. JAC)
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers (vs. JAC)
Current own/start %: 97/75
I'd start him over: Steve Smith (at CHI), Dwayne Bowe (vs. OAK), Malcom Floyd (at CLE)
Coming into the year there was no sleeper I liked more than Randall Cobb. As a rookie he was efficient in ways seldom seen, catching nearly 80 percent of his targets and averaging nearly 12.5 yards per target. To start the 2012 season, the great hands remained for Cobb, but he was being almost restricted to the short passing game. Through four weeks, Cobb was catching 86 percent of his targets but was averaging just 7.7 yards per target and 9.0 yards per catch. That was a waste of his natural big-play abilities and it certainly seems like the Packers figured that out as well. With Cedric Benson out with an injury, the team has turned Cobb loose and finally began to utilize him down the field. In the last three games, Cobb has seen 22 targets and has caught 19 of them (86.3 percent) for 273 yards (12.4 yards per target) and three touchdowns. In other words, his catch rate has not dropped off one bit and the kid is just making bigger and bigger plays. I think he is only getting started in Green Bay and is a weekly starter as far as I am concerned. The Jags have given up five wide receiver touchdowns in their last four games and are allowing nearly 27 points per game to the position during that span. Look for Cobb to say red-hot.
Brandon Gibson, WR, Rams (vs. NE)
Current own/start %: 50/27
I'd start him over: Hakeem Nicks (at DAL), Brian Hartline (at NYJ), James Jones (vs. JAC)
The Patriots have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL for the second straight year and I don't think a trip to jolly old England is going to cure their woes. In their last five games, the Patriots have allowed 1,690 yards passing and 14 passing touchdowns to a pretty pedestrian group of quarterbacks. The five signal callers in question are Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning (ok, he is legit), Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez, so it is not like they are facing the best passing offenses in the game today. All five of those quarterbacks set their 2012 high in passing yards against the Patriots, which led to big games for their wide receivers as you might expect. In that five-game stretch, the Patriots have allowed 1,069 yards and nine touchdowns to wide receivers, who have scored an average of 31.7 Fantasy points per game, tops in the NFL. Seven receivers have produced at least 10 Fantasy points against the Pats in those five games and 10 have scored at least eight points. Since Danny Amendola went down with an injury, Brandon Gibson leads the Rams with 16 targets and 12 catches and is second with 151 receiving yards. I think Gibson is a great pickup and play receiver for your teams this week and his running mate Chris Givens is also worth a start as a No. 3 receiver.
Other WRs and TEs with favorable matchups: Demaryius Thomas/ Eric Decker (vs. NO), Marques Colston/Lance Moore (at DEN), Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown (vs. WAS), Kenny Britt (vs. IND), Percy Harvin (vs. TB), Josh Gordon (vs. SD), Denarius Moore (at KC), Heath Miller (vs. WAS), Joel Dreessen (vs. NO), Jason Witten (vs. NYG), Dustin Keller (vs. MIA), Bye Week Broskis: Sidney Rice (at DET), Donnie Avery (at TEN), Nate Washington (vs. IND), Chris Givens (vs. NE), Cecil Shorts (at GB), Darrius Heyward-Bey (at KC), Titus Young/Ryan Broyles (vs. SEA), Mike Williams (at MIN), Brandon Myers (at KC), Jacob Tamme (vs. NO), Coby Fleener (at TEN), Dwayne Allen (at TEN)
Ride the pine ...
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (at CHI)
Current own/start %: 100/65
I'd rather start: Carson Palmer (at KC), Sam Bradford (vs. NE), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. WAS)
Cam Newton is struggling with four games of less than 20 points out of six starts in 2012. He has only been a Top 12 quarterback three times this year and he is likely to fall below .500 after taking on the Bears in Week 8. The Bears are not struggling on defense and are currently allowing a league-low 9.8 points per game. They have generated 16 quarterback turnovers and have only allowed five quarterback touchdowns this year. That means that quarterbacks are actually scoring negative points on touchdowns (30) versus turnovers (-32) against this defense, which is insane. When you consider that Cam has 9 turnovers and only eight touchdowns himself, it sure looks like it could be a long day at the office. No quarterback has produced 20 points against this defense and they held Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Tony Romo to a combined 57 points in their four toughest tests of the year. Cam is in a big slump and the Bears are nobody's slump buster. Look to buy Cam for pennies on the dollar after this game as his schedule gets much, much easier after Week 8.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions (vs. SEA)
Current own/start %: 97/51
I'd rather start: Vick Ballard (at TEN), Chris Johnson (vs. IND), Doug Martin (at MIN)
I am a big fan of Leshoure's and I think he has a bunch of big games coming up as the Detroit schedule gets easier, but this is not going to be one of those weeks. I know that Frank Gore ran wild on the Seahawks in Week 7, but that was a short week and the 49ers defense dominated the Seattle offense. I do not see the Detroit defense completely shutting down the Hawks on offense and even if they do, Seattle will be very well rested, which could mean a long day at the office for Leshoure. Gore is the only runner all year to run for more than 55 yards against this Seattle defense and in seven games, only two runners have even topped 45 yards. The Hawks have not allowed a running back to score in four straight games and only two runners, Gore and Cedric Benson, have produced 10 points against this defense. Leshoure himself has not scored or produced 10 Fantasy points in three straight games and while he is a fine flex option -- especially in PPR leagues -- you can find a better No. 2 runner for your teams in Week 8.
Trent Richardson/Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns (vs. SD)
Current own/start %: 100/66; 44/11
I'd rather start: Rashad Jennings (at GB), Michael Turner (at PHI), Shonn Greene (vs. MIA)
The Browns are having internal discussions about whether or not they should shut down their prized rookie runner Trent Richardson for three weeks to deal with his rib injury. With that information at hand, I see two scenarios happening for the Browns running backs in Week 8 against the Chargers. First, Richardson could make another start like he did in Week 7 when he carried the ball eight times for eight yards before being benched against the soft run defense of the Colts. Montario Hardesty would be the next back in and neither back would have much Fantasy value unless they got lucky and scored a touchdown on their limited touches. The second scenario is that Richardson sits out the game and the very pedestrian and oft-injured Hardesty makes his first start of 2012. Over the last two weeks, Hardesty has 84 yards rushing and a touchdown on 22 carries (3.8 yards per carry) against the Bengals and Colts. The Bengals (124 yards per game) and the Colts (141.7 yards per game) are two of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Together they have allowed 17 rushing touchdowns this year and are allowing a healthy 4.6 yards per carry. So Hardesty was clearly below average against these defenses, which begs the question; what you can expect against the league's top-ranked run defense of the Chargers? The Chargers are allowing only 71.2 rushing yards per game on 3.6 yards per carry. They have not allowed a single 100-yard rusher this year and have given up only two rushing scores all year, fourth fewest in the league. The only area where the Chargers are weak against running backs is in the passing game and with Hardesty hardly playing in passing situations (he has just one catch for nine yards all year), it really limits his upside. If T-Rich starts, I am going for a healthier option and if he sits, I am staying away from Hardesty, so either way you want to sit the Browns runners against the Super Chargers in Week 8.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants (at DAL)
Current own/start %: /100/89
I'd rather start: Denarius Moore (at KC), Kenny Britt (vs. IND), Antonio Brown (vs. WAS)
Outside of his monster game against the Buccaneers, the clearly less than 100 percent Hakeem Nicks has not done much to help your Fantasy teams. In Week 1 against these very same Cowboys, Nicks had four catches for 38 yards. In Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers, Nicks had three catches for 44 yards and just last week he mustered only five catches for 53 yards against the Redskins, who have the league's worst pass defense. He has not found the end zone outside of the Tampa Bay game either and you have to wonder how effective he will be in Week 8 against the excellent secondary of the Cowboys. Only three receivers have eclipsed 60 yards receiving against Dallas this year and only Brandon Marshall and Brandon LaFell have reached double-digit Fantasy points against this defense. I am fine with Nicks in a three-receiver league, because at least two receivers have produced eight Fantasy points against the Cowboys in three straight games, but unless he is at 100 percent he does not have a ton of upside and his recent performances would indicate that he still carries plenty of downside.
Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins (at NYJ)
Current own/start %: 88/15
I'd rather start: Brandon Gibson (vs. NE), Chris Givens (vs. NE), Josh Gordon (vs. SD)
In his last two games, Brian Hartline has a total of five targets, four catches and 59 yards receiving. Teams took notice of his hot start and he is commanding much more defensive attention than he did prior to his breakout game against the Cardinals. Well, if he thought the last two weeks were tough, things will not be getting any easier in Week 8 against Antonio Cromartie and the Jets. Since Darrelle Revis went down for the year, AC has taken his game to a new level as a total lockdown cornerback. Over the last three weeks he has faced Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Lloyd and they have produced a combined seven Fantasy points. That's 2.3 points per game to three of the best receivers in the NFL, who caught just seven of their 24 targets against Cromartie for a combined 108 yards. That means that Cromartie has held three elite receivers to just a 29.1 percent catch rate and 4.5 yards per target while picking off one pass and forcing a fumble. Hartline still has value and I know that the 'Fins want to get him the ball, but I am not taking my chances against arguably the hottest cornerback in the NFL right now.
Good luck this week!